Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Vermont
A study by a legislative commission
Same-sex couples have been able to
obtain civil unions (CUs) since 2000-JUL-1. Justices of the peace and clergy are under no obligation
to conduct civil union ceremonies; some did not. CU couples receive the same rights, privileges, obligations and
responsibilities as Vermont has always given to married couples. However, they
are still denied the 1,049 federal "rights, benefits and
privileges" that are routinely given to married couples.
In 2007-AUG, a Commission was established by the Vermont legislature to study the possibility of allowing
loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. Members of the public who testified
at the hearings were overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equity through the
introduction of same-sex marriage (SSM) in the state.
Former state representative Tom Little (R) chaired the 11 member Commission on
Family Recognition and Protection. They studied whether the definition of marriage in
Vermont should be expanded to include loving, committed same-sex couples. Other
members of the bipartisan commission included former Gov. Phil Hoff, Johnson
State College president Barbara Murphy, former legislators, a quarry owner, and
an Episcopal priest. They held their first meeting on 2007-AUG-23 and dealt with
administrative issues, including the organization of public meetings.
Some opponents of same-sex marriage allegedly decided to boycott the public
||Stephen Cable, president of Vermont Renewal, said
"As a result of their actions and refusal to address the issues we
have raised, we are asking Vermonters to boycott the hearings and pay no
attention to the [commission's] report." 1
||Craig Benson, founder of Take It to the People, promotes a
plebiscite on same-sex marriage. He said:
"This political farce is a waste of taxpayer's time, attention and
tax money. This is the left having a dialogue with the far left while
everyone else is left out." 1
||Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington (D) said:
"I think for many Vermonters the question has been when, not so much
as whether, we would eventually recognize same-sex union through
marriage. I think many people saw civil unions as a first step." 2
||Governor Jim Douglas (R) said:.
"I really think it's important for the Legislature to work with me to
focus on what is important to everybody in Vermont and that's the cost
of living in Vermont." 2
||Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin (D) gave his support to marriage
equality even though he voted against the year 2000 civil union bill. He
"I think now most Vermonters would acknowledge it hasn't impacted
their families in any way, shape or form." 2
Between 2007-OCT-10 and 2008-FEB-11, the Commission
held eight public hearings at different locations in the state. They held a
legal issues symposium on 2007-OCT-29. They also created a website to communicate
with the public. 3
The Commission received over 100 written comments
by mail or Email. At the public meetings, they heard from over 240 persons;
about 220 supported same-sex marriage; about 12 opposed marriage equity. It is
not known whether this 20:1 ratio was caused by:
||A general acceptance of SSM by Vermonters, or
||The decision by some religious and social conservatives to boycott the
Commission reported that:
"With rare exceptions, the witness testimony and
audience behavior were civil and respectful. Both sides commented that the
hearings were a good opportunity to express their views on the issues."
The Commission noted some recurring themes
favoring SSM during the public meetings:
||Civil unions (CU) are separate and unequal.
||CU status is generally not 'portable' to other
states and countries.
||The differences in language between CU and
marriage are powerful.
||CU couples have more hurdles in income taxes and
||Children thrive in CU families.
||Dire predictions years ago of the effect of CUs never
||SSM presents no threat to opposite-sex marriage.
||Civil marriage should be a secular right for
||Religious marriage is not a civil right.
||Vermont is ready to take the next step.
||There has been an evolution in attitude towards
greater acceptance of gays and lesbians since CUs were legalized.
Among the small percentage of testimonies that
opposed SSM, the Commission noted other recurrent themes:
||CUs gave sufficient rights and privileges to
||Vermont should not enter another divisive
||SSM fundamentally misunderstands the institution
and role of marriage.
||Opposite-sex marriage is God ordained and the
only form of marriage that is biblical. (One wonders how many holding this
opinion is aware of Solomon's hundreds of wives and hundreds of concubines).
The legal symposium studied the consequences of
introducing SSM in Vermont from a legal perspective. On 2007-OCT-29:
Professor Greg Johnson
favored SSM. He said:
"... there are some 1,096 federal rights and benefits of marriage
that civil union couples cannot enjoy because of the federal Defense of Marriage
Act (DOMA), ... which defines marriage for purposes of federal law as only the
union between one man and one woman....
there are eight states that have recognized the legal rights of such unions: New
Hampshire and California through statute; Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York
through a state attorney general's opinion; and Massachusetts, Iowa and West
through a judicial decision. Massachusetts same-sex marriages are legally
in four states: as civil unions in New Hampshire by statute and in New Jersey by
attorney general opinion, and as marriages in Rhode Island and New York by
general opinion. According to the Vermont Attorney General's Office, Vermont
would most likely recognize a Massachusetts marriage as a civil union. ... 26
states have amended their constitutions to limit marriage to one man and one
woman and 19 states have enacted statutes to that effect, while 17 states have
amended their constitutions to prohibit the recognition of any same-sex
relationship, including civil unions. These state prohibitions are commonly
referred to as 'state DOMAs' or 'mini-DOMAs.' According to Johnson, litigation
to overturn state DOMAs faces substantial challenges based on current court
precedents, except where a state DOMA prohibits recognition of any same-sex
relationship and lacks any rational basis for the discrimination" 5
Monte N. Stewart testified about "traditional
marriage" -- the restriction of marriage as a special privilege available only
to opposite-sex couples. He
"... the case for [traditional] marriage as a vital social
institution whose meaning
and value are intrinsically, inseparably, and universally (across time and
bound to the traditional legal and social union of one man and one woman. Mr.
said that this meaning of marriage yields important and valuable 'social goods'
society, including the optimum family structure for nurturing and raising of
spoke of the right of a child to grow up with and bond with his or her
and father as interwoven with the social goods derived from traditional
He appears to be unaware of the many references in the Bible and many other
cultures up to the present time that allow one man to marry multiple women, and
rarely, the reverse. His reference to biological parents may be troubling to
some. It might be interpreted as
an attack on adopting parents, adopted children, and children born to a loving
couple by artificial insemination.
He said that:
"... the 'real reason for the marriage battle in
Vermont' is the social
benefits, protections, rights, and obligations and that proponents of same-sex
are incorrect when they assert that inclusion of gay and lesbian couples within
marriage laws will enhance the social status and well-being of those families.
"Vermont law has no power to usher same-sex couples into the venerable
man/woman marriage institution; all Vermont law can do is suppress the
man/woman institution, fabricate in its place the radically different genderless
regime, and then assure that the marriage of no couple in this State (whether
man/woman or same-sex) is legitimate unless sanctioned by that regime."
By "genderless" marriage, he apparently does not refer to the couple having
no gender. He refers to the government not refusing a marriage certificate and
registration on the basis of the couple's gender(s).
Beth Robinson, Esq. was co-counsel to the plaintiffs in the case of
Baker v. State -- the lawsuit that eventually brought about CVs in Vermont. She also chairs
the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, and is a strong supporter of SSM
for all loving, committed couples. She identified six areas in which she found
the CU law deficient, and cited specific examples of how SSM would bring
significant positive changes to civil union couples. They are:
- A host of privately conferred financial benefits and protections awarded
by third parties on the basis of marriage (including health insurance).
- Security in traveling from state to state (sometimes called
- Critical federal protections (including social security survivor benefits,
family friendly immigration laws, and benefits for military spouses).
- Participation in an institution that carries considerable personal
significance for many, and undeniable social significance.
- A legal status that is widely understood throughout the country and the
world, communicating familial commitment.
Inclusion and equality. 7
Commission report issued:
The Commission's 32 page report was issued
on 2008-APR-21. 4 They did recommend
additional areas for study. However, they did not offer recommendations about
the implementation of SSM in the state. They were not asked to. They wrote that:
"... making such a recommendation would undercut
and usefulness of its work and this report. Simply put, we were asked to listen
to the testimony of Vermonters on these issues, to look at the legal issues, and
to report on what we found. It is the role of Vermont's policy-makers and
elected officials to read and reflect on this report and in their best judgment
determine what steps to take in their
role as public servants of the people of Vermont. 8
No action on the report was expected until 2009, in order to
avoid making same-sex marriage an election issue in 2008.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Vermont Panel Considers Marriage Redefinition," CitizenLink, 2007-AUG-24,
"Vermont looks at upgrading civil unions," 2007-JUL-26, at:
Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection
2007-2008 Legislative Session, at:
"Report of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection,"
http://www.leg.state.vt.us/ This is a PDF file/
- Ibid, Pages 18 & 19.
- Ibid, Pages 21 & 22.
- Ibid, Page 25.
- Ibid, Page 29.
Copyright © 2001 to 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Last updated: 2007-AUG-26
Author: B.A. Robinson