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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Vermont

2008: Legalizing same-sex marriage.
Overview. Senate committee activity.

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Same-sex couples in Vermont have been able to obtain civil unions (CUs) since 2000-JUL-1. They have received 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 opposite-sex 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. Public response was overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equity through the introduction of SSM. 1

By 2009-MAR, S-115, a bill legalizing SSM, was passed unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It passed the Senate on 2009-MAR-24 with overwhelming support. It finally passed the House on APR-02 with a vote of 95 to 52.

As promised, Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, vetoed the bill on APR-06. The Senate and House  then voted to override the veto. There was no problem with a Senate override; they voted 23 to 5 in favor. However, the House vote on APR-07 was a squeaker: 100 to 49 in favor of a legislative override -- the absolute minimum required to obtain a 2/3 super majority.

Vermont thus became the fifth state in the U.S. to have legalized same-sex marriage. The others were California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa. (SSM was available in California, but this has since been at least temporarily eliminated by Proposition 8).

Vermont is the first state to legalize SSM by legislative action without pressure from a state court.

Same-sex couples will be able to purchase their marriage licenses on 2009-SEP-01, and marry shortly thereafter. 2

Senate committee:

Bill S-115 was written to legalize SSM. As it was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee 300 Vermont lawyers signed a statement of support 0n 2009-MAR-13. WPTZ-TV reported:

"Susan Murray, a Burlington lawyer and organizer of the group said, 'We all have one thing in common. As attorneys, we have a special privilege and a special obligation I think to work for justice and equality for all of Vermont's citizens'. ..."

"The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, which included print and broadcast advertising and a range of news events featuring prominent Vermonters -- clergy, mental health clinicians and lawyers -- all advocating for the move from civil unions to same-sex marriage. ..."

"A research team at UCLA released a study [during the week of 2009-MAR-15 that] ... projected economic benefits from adoption of same-sex marriage legislation. The study estimated 1,000 Vermont gay couples, and another 8,200 couples from out of state, would tie the knot in Vermont in the first three years following passage. The report said that translates into at lest [sic] $3 million in additional consumer spending, creating 700 new jobs." 3

The Rev. Craig Bensen of Cambridge is president of "Take It To The People" -- a group opposed to marriage equality. He said that the membership of his group has surged since Democrats in the Legislature gave the SSM bill high priority. He said:

"Our best hope is in the citizens of our state calling their senators and representatives and saying, 'We don't want to buy this, don't vote for it, ... or you'll discover a whole lot of people want to run for your seat." 3

Although there appears to be major support for the bill in the Legislature, Governor Jim Douglas (R) opposes the bill and asked legislators to shelve S-115 and concentrate exclusively on the economic crisis.

The Burlington Free Press has long been an opponent of SSM. They reversed their stance. An editorial on 2009-MAR-19 titled "The time has come for marriage equality" said in part:

"... the time has come for Vermont to move forward with this important piece of civil rights legislation when it comes before the Legislature. We should no longer deny that which is offered to a selected portion of the population."

"Gov. Jim Douglas would do much to bring Vermonters together on this still controversial matter by signing such a bill into law if and when it is presented to him. If he opposes the concept of same-sex marriage, he must articulate his reasons beyond saying it is unnecessary with our civil union law and that he wants to avoid a divisive issue."

"In an April 1999 editorial, the Free Press editorial board wrongly warned Vermonters against gay marriage. The years since then have proven our position to be unfounded. ..."

"Vermonts experience with civil unions since 2000 has shown us that people are more than ready to accept the idea of two people of the same gender should receive legal recognition for a committed relationship. The world as we knew it hardly changed at all for the larger population, though it did for that portion seeking a measure of equality. The fact that civil unions are so unremarkable today is perhaps the best testimony to their acceptance."

"The years have also shown civil unions to be unequal to marriage, both in the views of society and in legal terms. Federal laws do not recognize same-sex unions when it comes to areas such as taxation and survivor benefits. Without state recognition of marriage, there is [sic] little grounds for challenging federal limitations on same-sex couples. ..."

"In many ways, passing the marriage equality bill would merely be playing catch-up, except that Vermont would be the first state to enact such a law without the direct prompting of a court decision." 4

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Bill S.115 passes Senate Judiciary Committee:

In 2009-MAR-20, S-115 unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5 to 0. By a vote of 4 to 1, the committee rejected a amendment to hold a statewide, non-binding referendum on SSM.

Nancy Remsen, writing for a political blog at the Burlington Free Press, said:

"Sen. Kevin Mullin, (R-Rutland), put his political future on the line by voting to recommend the change in the marriage statute -- but not until he tried to delay the vote for a year so a non-binding referendum could be held next Town Meeting Day. ..."

"Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Sears, (D-Bennington), opposed the referendum, saying it would invite oodles of out-of-state money and media buys. Think California, he said."

"Steve Cable, one of the most outspoken opponents of marriage equality, promised political consequences, particularly for Mullin. "I know one senator who will pay the price, he said after the vote."

"Lawmakers know there could be political consequences from this vote. 'That comes with the territory being the Legislature,' Sears said after the vote."

According to LifeSiteNews.com:

"Hearing participants discussed the cultural significance of marriage, the origin of homosexuality, and children's right to a mother and father."

"Former Rep. Tom Little, who passed the civil union law nine years ago as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, argued that the same-sex 'marriage' * bill should be passed because the civil union law failed to grant 'less tangible benefits' including the use of words such as 'marriage,' 'wedding,' and 'divorce,' which have 'historical, social and cultural significance'."

"Eugene and Sandy Raymond, who have been married fifty years, came to the Statehouse to rally against the bill. 'We believe that marriage is between a man and a woman - that's the way God designed us,' Sandy Raymond told local news station WCAX."

"Rev. Craig Bensen, one of the opposition rally organizers, urged lawmakers to allow for a statewide ballot question on same-sex 'marriage.' * 'If you want to know how Vermonters feel about this issue, just ask us," Bensen said."

"The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) reports that same-sex 'marriage' * advocates have launched 'the largest non-election radio and TV advertising buy in the history of Vermont.' NOM will in turn sponsor a 'Don't Mess with Marriage' advertising campaign to battle same-sex 'marriage' * legislation in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine."

"Legislative leaders have been criticized for hastily introducing the bill at a time of economic instability."

" 'This is a very tough issue, it's very emotional,' said Sen. Dick Sears, (D-Bennington County). 'I think that the leadership has misjudged how divisive this is going to be'."

" 'All of this was sprung in a fashion that I think most Vermonters - even if they are in favor of gay marriage - would recognize that the tactics being used are underhanded tactics, trying to push this through without debate,' said Steve Cable of Vt. Renewal... . " 5

LifeSiteNews refers to Vt. Renewal as a "pro-family" group. However, they only favor families led by opposite-sex parents; they are against recognition of those families headed by same-sex couples.

* In the above quote, we copied the punctuation used by LifeSiteNews. In common with many other religiously conservative media outlets, they enclose the word marriage in quotation marks when referring to same-sex marriage. This indicates their refusal to recognize SSM as valid marriage.

There were two postings to Nancy Remsen's blog [spelling corrected]:

bullet "Anonymous" said: "Oodles of money have already come in to Vermont to support the bill. How does Dick Sears think all the TV commercials, newspaper ads, chartered busses have been paid for. His comment on opposition dollars is out of line and completely absurd. "
bullet "Celeste" wrote: "I think the statement 'oodles' is absolutely justified due to the smear campaign ran by the Mormon church and Yes on 8 campaigners in California. The last thing I want to see is televised ads on Vermont TV that reflected the very lies and hate the Mormons tried to spread, and spent millions to do it. They made it look like the lesbian and gay community were a danger to society and to children, they did not hold back any lies or slander. They extorted, they exploited children and in the end the people who had to pay for these lies were NOT the liars, but the lesbian and gay community."

"Lets not forget it is entirely unfair to place the rights of minorities to a popularity vote where the majority can be persuaded by these very lies or vote based on religious beliefs. Hence why the supreme court ruled pro interracial marriage, regardless of popular 'belief'." 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection
    2007-2008 Legislative Session, at: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/ See also our essay on this topic.
  2. David Abel, "Vermont legalizes same-sex marriage: 11th-hour change of heart ends veto," The Boston Globe, 2009-APR-08, at: http://www.boston.com/
  3. "Activists Make Case On Eve Of Gay Marriage Debate. Study Says Gay Marriage Would Help Economy," WPTZ-TV, 2009-MAR-15, at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/
  4. "Editorial: The time has come for marriage equality," Burlington Free Press, 2009-MAR-17, at: http://burlingtonfreepress.com/
  5. Kathleen Gilbert, "Vermont Begins Hearings on Same-Sex 'Marriage' Bill," LifeSiteNews, 2009-MAR-17, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  6. Nancy Remsen, "First vote is unanimous on gay marriage," Burlington Free Press, 2009-MAR-20, at: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/

Copyright 2009 & 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2009-MAR-21
Last updated: 2010-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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