Civil Unions in Vermont
News: 2000-JAN to JUN
Year 2000 activity:
||2000-FEB-17: Roman Catholic demonstration: Most Reverend
Kenneth A. Angell, Bishop of the Diocese of Burlington conducted a
rally and press conference at the statehouse. Present were "about
200 pastors of the Greater Burlington Evangelical Association, the
Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington and other Clergy Association and
denominational groups." He advocated that the
legislature poll the people and, if necessary, violate the VT
constitution by ignoring the Supreme Court ruling. He based his
arguments on the Bible. He concluded:
"We have hope that
Vermonters will demand a Constitutional Amendment to protect and
preserve "Traditional Marriage" between one man and one
woman. And finally, we have
hope that Christ will heal His Church and bring it once again into One
Body. With Martin Luther King, Jr., we proclaim, "We shall
overcome! We shall overcome! We shall overcome!"
||2000-FEB: Opinion Poll: Senator Bill Doyle has distributed an opinion
poll sheet. 1 He urges that citizens organize town
meetings during 2000-MAR, and obtain the sense of the public (in
favor, opposed, not sure) on a number of questions:
||Should the Vermont legislature authorize same-sex marriages?
||Should the Vermont legislature provide benefits to same sex
couples as for married couples?
||Should the Vermont legislature oppose both same sex marriage and
||Should the Vermont constitution be amended to prohibit same sex
||Additional questions were included about hazing, night driving
for youth, presidential candidates, etc.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington is cooperating with
Senator Doyle in this survey.
||2000-FEB: Roman Catholic response: The church is distributing a
petition which states that "We, the undersigned, urge you to
amend the Vermont Constitution, in this session, to state that
marriage in Vermont is exclusively reserved for unions between one (1)
man and one (1) woman, only." The petition appears strange
for two reasons:
||The petitioners ask that the legislature amend the state
constitution in its current session. Yet, they must know that
the process for amending the constitution is done by public vote, and
then only after a laborious process over many years.
||The constitutional amendment is not really needed, as marriage
in Vermont has always meant a union of one man and one woman.
There were no plans to change it. The current legislation leaves
marriage intact and merely creates a parallel system of civil
unions for gays and lesbians.
||2000-FEB: Straw poll: VOTE.com started a poll to ask whether Vermont
Governor Howard Dean should sign a bill to allow same-sex civil
unions. The options are two: whether "Homosexuals should have
the legal right to unite," or "Gay couples shouldn't
get the benefits of marriage." As of 2000-MAR-22 at 13:30 ET,
the vote was 52% in favor of the right to unite and 48% opposed.
57,987 votes had been cast. |
||2000-MAR-29: Focus on the Family campaign: ReligionToday
reported that Focus on the Family, a
fundamentalist Christian agency, has mounted a campaign to encourage
conservative Christians to contact Vermont political leaders and ask
them to oppose a bill that would give homosexual couples the same
legal benefits as married couples. Tom Minnery, Focus' Vice President,
said that the bill "is a cowardly attempt to redefine marriage
in a legal sense without calling homosexual unions 'marriage.'
Legislators are trying to have it both ways," by saying they
don't support gay marriage but voting for a "quasi-marriage
system" that equates homosexual partners with married
couples. Minnery expressed concern that American gay and lesbian
couples could form legally recognized civil unions in Vermont and then
return to their home states and ask that their legal status be
recognized. He commented that "Lawsuits could become Vermont's
biggest export, overtaking Ben & Jerry's ice cream and maple
||2000-MAR-30: Bill status: The Conservative News Service reported
that the bill is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hearings
were held. The committee expected to prepare legislation for
submission to the Senate, perhaps in early April. In early March, a
series of 30 town meetings were held; all but four voted against
domestic partnership legislation. Michael Johnson of Kerusso
Ministries suggests that the politicians are worried about the
bill affecting the chances of their re-election in November.
||2000-APR-3: Special posting: CitizenLink, a service of a Fundamentalist
Christian agency, Focus on the Family, issued a "special
edition." This is the first such mailing that we have ever received. They
quote David Coolidge, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marriage
"In its present form, H. 847 does not require
Vermont residency to establish a civil union. We expect that gay
partners in other states will go to Vermont to register their
relationship as a civil union, then return to their home state to seek
recognition of their union, possibly by challenging existing marriage
laws." Curiously, Focus asks their Vermont subscribers
to contact their legislators and "urge them to OPPOSE H. 847
and SUPPORT A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DEFINING MARRIAGE AS BETWEEN
ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN."
It is difficult to see what such an
amendment would accomplish. Vermont state law already restricts
marriage to one man and one woman. An amendment would have no impact
at all on the proposed civil union law.]
||2000-APR-18 Urgent appeal: Focus on the Family continued its urgent appeal
to citizens of Vermont and of the rest of the U.S. to defeat the
bill. They suggest that individuals call Senator Richard Sears,
chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask him "to
support a religious exemption amendment to H. 847." |
[Author's note: The scope of this proposed
amendment is unclear:
||If they want to see a clause added to the bill
that allows clergy to refuse to solemnize the civil union of a gay
or lesbian couple, then the amendment would be redundant. No
priest, minister or pastor in Vermont has ever been required by
law to marry a couple. There is nothing in H. 847 that would
require a clergy person to conduct a union service for a gay or
||Perhaps they mean a clause that would allow civil
servants to refuse to issue a civil union certificate if it is
against their religious beliefs. This clause could be
unconstitutional if it resulted in every employee in a town hall
refusing to provide service to a couple. The Vermont has already
ruled that the government must supply civil union or marriage
certificates to all who qualify.]
||2000-APR-19: Responses to the passage of the civil-union
bill: After the passage of the bill in the Vermont Senate,
responses were somewhat predictable:
||Sandi Cote, who is planning to sanctify her 33
year relationship with Bobbi Whitacre when the civil union law is
passed, said: "It's a bittersweet victory, I think,, for a lot
of us. To have to stop short of the goal [of marriage]...It's
||Beth Robinson, a lawyer in the case, said
simply: "It's great that it passed...What's greater to me is
the margin by which it passed. That shows me the Senate
understands that gays and lesbians need and deserve the same
protections as heterosexuals in our society and that's a great
||Senator John Crowley (R) wondered whether would it have the
tendency to encourage homosexuality.
||Sen. James Leddy (D) said civil unions would not undermine his
28-year marriage -- or anyone else's: "There's nothing in
this court decision, nothing in this bill, nothing in the
committed relationships of two people that presents a threat to my
||Janet Parshall, spokesperson for the Fundamentalist Christian Family
Research Council said in a statement: "It's a tragic
day for the state of Vermont, for the Senate has ignored the will
of the people. But it's an even sadder day for the state of
marriage, for the Senate action today was a direct assault on this
sacred institution." She did not explain how civil unions would
negatively impact marriages in the State.
||David Smith of the gay-positive Human Rights Campaign said that:
"Vermont is taking care of its gay and lesbian citizens in a
way that other states are not...Vermont is restating its
commitment to fairness by today's action."
||2000-APR-25: Comment by House Judiciary Chair: Apparently
addressing heterosexuals in
Vermont, Thomas Little said: |
granting of the equal protections of the law by providing the legal
protections, benefits and responsibilities that flow from marriage
will not diminish your humanity, your dignity, your freedom or
independence. ... The continued denial of
these legal protections, benefits and responsibilities to a small but
vulnerable class of Vermont's citizens diminishes their humanity,
dignity, freedom and independence."
||2000-APR-25: The civil union bill passed the Vermont legislature. |
||2000-APR-26: Governor Howard Dean signed the bill into law.|
||2000-APR-27: Negative comments by conservative Christians: There were many objections from conservative
Christians about the civil-union bill. According to the People for the
||Presidential candidate Alan Keyes drew parallels between
homosexuality and rape, pedophilia and adultery. He claimed
that lesbians and gay men represent "a new effort to
encourage us all to become individuals so enslaved by passions
that we have redefined human nature...We cannot accept this new
form of slavery."
||Former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer called the decision
"an unmitigated disaster" and claimed that it was in some ways
"worse than terrorism."
||Janet Parshall, spokesperson for the Family Research Council (FRC)
compared the Vermont Supreme Court Justices to "bad
magicians trying to make the dignity of marriage disappear...These
judges may wear black robes, but that doesn't mean they're wizards
who can transform marriage into whatever they want it to be."
||FRC, in a press release, criticizes the Court for "mandating
sex-partner subsidies" and claimed that it...amounted to
tyranny over people who hold to common sense morality."
||A number of conservative Christian agencies, including Focus
on the Family, Center for Reclaiming America, and Public
Advocate of the United States organized mass drives to bury
the Vermont senate under anti-civil-union letters and phone calls.
||2000-APR-28: ReligionToday comment: Howard Dean (D),
"Vermont's governor, was barraged with 20,000 letters opposing
homosexual 'civil unions.' " He said: "Undoubtedly
this will be an election year issue...But the legislators that voted
on it didn't think about politics and, frankly, neither did I." |
||2000-JUN-16: Startling development: State Representative
Nancy Sheltra stated that "Some of the House representatives
decided before the roll call vote was actually taken that they would
bet on how big a difference the vote would be." Each of 14
representatives tossed a dollar into a pool -- a violation of house
rules. A lawsuit has been filed with the Vermont Superior Court by
Sheltra and Steve Cable, a member of the group "Who Would Have
Thought?" If each of the 14 had not voted, the legislation
would have be defeated in the house by seven votes. Sheltra said:
"I don't know where it's going to go. I just say pray, pray,
pray, pray, because God can intervene here." On JUN-26, Judge
Stephen Martin refused to block the law; he said that the plaintiffs
had failed to demonstrate how the law would cause them harm. The
plaintiffs' only appeal option would be to the Vermont Supreme Court --
the group that ordered the legislature to provide benefits for gays
and lesbians that are equivalent to those enjoyed by married couples.
That would have been an interesting prospect.|
2000-JUN-19: State officials to refuse to cooperate: A number
of town clerks have decided to refuse to issue licenses for gay and
Town Clerk Helen O'Donnell from Tunbridge VT told CNSNews.com:
"I have resigned...Under my moral beliefs, I feel I cannot
issue the licenses. While the law allows me to appoint someone to act
in my place, I didn't think that was right either, so I did what I had
to do. I resigned." She discussed the matter with her pastor.
"He showed me relevant portions of
scripture, but he didn't try to persuade me. He told me my actions
should be based on my convictions. ... Some of my colleagues told me they will
stay in office and fight the law and take the consequences."
According to Steven Jeffrey, executive director of the Vermont
League of Cities and Towns:
"Title IX of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act also
prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and town offices,
where the licenses are issued, have been determined by our courts to be
places of public accommodations."
Fines of $1,000 per violation are possible.
According to CNSNews.com:
"An informal opinion issued by
the Vermont attorney general says a person who is denied a civil union
license can sue the town clerk or the town for compensatory and
punitive damages. The aggrieved person or couple can also ask the
attorney general to go to court on his or her behalf. The state's
Human Right's Commission could also intervene on behalf of the couple,
under the state's public accommodation law, which prohibits
discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation." 3
Three justices of the peace have announced that they will not
perform civil union ceremonies. Under state law, they are not required
to carry out either marriage ceremonies or civil unions.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Senator Bill Doyle's opinion poll is at: http://www.vermontcatholic.org/
- People for the American Way Foundation, Right wing
watch online, 2000-APR-25.
"Vermont prepares for first-ever civil unions,"
CNSNews.com, 2000-JUN-30. Online at Maranatha Christian Journal at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
Copyright © 1998 to 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Last updated: 2007-AUG-27
Author: B.A. Robinson