In 1995, a group of lesbians and gays in Vermont organized the Vermont Freedom to
Marry Task Force.1 This group has had two main activities:
raising public awareness and concern about the denial to gays and lesbians of one of the
most fundamental human rights: the right to marry
collecting signatures on the Marriage Resolution, 2
which promoted equal access to marriage for all adults.
The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force prepared a 17-minute informational
video 3 called "The Freedom to Marry: A Green Mountain
View". 22 Vermonters talk about how discrimination in marriage laws affects
their friends and families.
The "Baker v. Vermont" case before the
Chittenden Superior Court:
On 1997-JUL-22, three same-gendered couples in the state of Vermont sued the state, as
well as the towns of Shelburne, South Burlington and Milton VT. Their goal is to obtain
marriage licenses and to have their subsequent marriages recognized by the state. The
couples were Stan Baker and Peter Harrigan (in a committed relationship for 4 years); Nina
Beck and Stacy Jolles (7 year relationship; raising a family); and Lois Farnham and Holly
Puterbaugh (together for 25 years; they have one daughter). The case is "Baker v.
Vermont;" it was filed on 1997-JUL-22.
Their lawyers, Susan Murray and Beth Robinson from the legal firm of Langrock,
Sperry & Wool in Middlebury VT stated that:
"...the refusal to allow our
clients to marry violates both state marriage laws and the state Constitution, which
require that all citizens and families have the same access to the legal protections and
obligations of civil marriage...Marriage is a fundamental, individual, personal choice,
which should be available to all Vermonters."
The co-counsel, Mary Bonauto, from Gay
& Lesbian Advocates & Defenders added that
"... married couples receive
over 150 supports and protections under Vermont law which are not available to gay and
lesbian couples, no matter how long they have been together, no matter how committed their
relationship is, and no matter how much they need those legal protections."
Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project commented:
"Given that the status of the Hawaii suit is in some state of turmoil, a lawsuit
in another state with a good chance of winning makes a great deal of sense...It fortifies
the national battle for marriage rights." 3
In a lengthy filing (108 pages) the plaintiffs' lawyers stress that marriage is a
fundamental human right, a foundational component of society, and should not be denied to
gays or lesbians. "This case involves one of the most fundamental of all our
human and civil rights: the right to marry the person we love, the person with whom we
want to share our lives." The submission compared the Vermont attorney general's
position as similar to that of the 1966 Virginia Supreme Court, which upheld a state law
against interracial marriage. In a rather ironically named case, Loving v. Virginia,
the court claimed that it was up to the legislature, not the courts, to change the law.
The filing stated:
"The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately overturned laws outlawing interracial
marriage. The couples' case boils down to the simple belief that society has changed and
banning same-sex marriage is no longer reasonable...In light of the changing social mores
in the state of Vermont, it would be unjust and unreasonable to construe Vermont's
marriage statutes to exclude same-sex couples." 4
Their suit was naturally opposed by the Attorney General's office. They maintained that
many of the statutory benefits that the plaintiffs wish to obtain through marriage can
already be obtained through private contracts. They also claimed that "Vermont's
history and traditions do not support including same-sex unions within the fundamental
right to marriage...Marriage in this state has always been composed of one man and one
woman." They cited seven arguments against same-sex marriage and asked that the suit
be dismissed. The state claimed that they have an interest in giving special privileges to
heterosexual couples, because it:
Unites men and women to "bridge their differences";
Promotes a [family] setting which provides both male and female role models;
Preserves the "time honored" institution of marriage;
Ensures that Vermont marriages are recognized in other states;
Preserves the Legislature's authority to channel behavior and make normative statements;
Minimizes the use of modern fertility treatments in order to avoid increased child
custody and visitation disputes; and
Furthers the link between procreation and childrearing.
Chittenden Superior Court Judge Linda Levitt described arguments 1 to 6 as invalid,
speculative, difficult to grasp, or "without common sense or logical basis."
But she accepted point 7. She dismissed the suit on that basis.
Plaintiffs Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles commented.
"Gay and lesbian individuals and couples, like us, have children.
We share the State's concern for promoting stable homes for children. That's
why we wanted to marry."
We normally try to keep our personal thoughts out of our web site and remain
some times we cannot resist. The following are our subjective opinions on the
Attorney General's arguments:
Unites men and women: Most same-sex couples who wish to marry cannot
form committed loving marital relationships with members of the opposite-sex.
Since they cannot be united with members of the opposite sex anyway, the
questions remains whether the state should recognize their same-sex
Male and female role models: This is a key factor, particularly among
religious and social conservatives who feel that parenting by both a man and a
woman is vitally important to the mental and emotional health of their children.
However, this belief is not held by everyone in society. Should the government
promote one of many beliefs concerning gender?
"Time honored" institution of marriage: Human slavery
was also a time honored institution.
Recognition of Vermont marriages in other states: Other states are
required by the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution to
recognize Vermont opposite-sex marriages.
Legislature channeling behavior and make normative statements: Most
loving committed bonds between adults are opposite-sex relationships. Does the
state have the right to promote uniformity at the expense of the elementary
human rights of same-sex couples?
Minimizes the use of modern fertility treatments: The state can
reduce the level of fertility treatments by any number of arbitrary means other
than reducing the rights of same-sex couples: -- e.g. banning blonds or those
under 35 years-of-age from seeking treatment. None of these make sense.
Link between procreation and childrearing: Many couples, both
homosexual and heterosexual, form committed relationships and raise children.
Many same-sex couples have and/or raise children. In fact, two of the three
plaintiff couples have children. Meanwhile, many heterosexual couples remain
childless. Yet nobody talks of invalidating a man and women's marriage because
they are childless.
We find no merit in any of the Attorney General's arguments.
Peter Harrigan said: "Marriage is a fundamental right, central to me
as a human being. I am deeply devoted to my relationship with Stan, and
would like our commitment to be supported by legal rights afforded other
Holly Puterbaugh, who has been together with her partner for 25 years,
noted that "Lois has done as much as any other spouse to earn my
retirement benefits, but she's not entitled to them under present law."
Stacy Jolles and Nina Beck have been a couple for 7 years and are
parents of a 2-year-old child. Stacy recalls when Nina was rushed to the
hospital: "The doctors did not treat me as a family member, and if I had
not had a signed medical power of attorney from Nina, they would not have
let me be with Nina or participate in any medical decisions that needed to
be made...Our son will be better off if his parents can marry and enjoy the
legal support and protection that the civil marriage laws provide. He needs
and deserves to know that his parents have a legal connection to one
another, as well as to him."
The Catholic News Service
(CNS) reported a statement by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington, VT, on
1997-JUL-23. On the topic of same-gender marriages, Bishop Angell said: "The
church's position on marriage is absolutely, clearly defined as a 'faithful,
exclusive and lifelong union between one man and one woman, established by God
with its own proper laws.' The church's opposition to same-sex marriage has also
been vocally and adamantly stated." He added that this stance "should in
no way be misinterpreted to encourage disrespect for or prejudice against our
brothers and sisters of homosexual orientation." He quoted as statement by
the US Bishops as stating that gays and lesbians "have a right to and deserve
our respect, compassion, understanding and defense against bigotry, attacks and
Association is probably the most liberal of all of the large religious
denominations in North America. On 1996-JUN-3, the Unitarian Universalist
Ministers' Association of New Hampshire/Vermont issued a pastoral letter
affirming "the right of lesbians and gay men in coupled relationships to
marry, with all attending legal and financial benefits." They argued that:
gays and lesbians should only be deprived of the right to marry if those
opposed to same-sex marriage can prove that society would be damaged by such
after examination of the evidence, they concluded that the "continued
denial of the right of lesbian and gay couples to marry amounts to blatant
prejudice rooted in misunderstanding and fear."
the Bible is silent on the issue of same-sex marriages.
"...affirming the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry supports
our culture's treasured values of commitment, loyalty and fidelity."
"We believe in the sanctity of love between committed partners, no
matter what the gender is of the persons who love. We believe families to
come in many different configurations. We believe that in our often loveless
world the expression of love should and must be honored."