Civil Unions & Same-sex marriage in Vermont
The Vermont Superior Court decision
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:
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 Lambda Legal Defense and Education has prepared a partial list of special rights, privileges and responsibilities which are available only to heterosexual couples in the US.
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 co-counsel, Mary Bonauto, from Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders added that
Matt Coles, Director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project commented:
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:
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:
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.
The plaintiffs appealed the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.
WARNING: Author's personal opinions:
We normally try to keep our personal thoughts out of our web site and remain objective. However, some times we cannot resist. The following are our subjective opinions on the Attorney General's arguments:
We find no merit in any of the Attorney General's arguments.
Comments by Some of the Plaintiffs:
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 abuse."
The Unitarian Universalist 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:
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