Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Vermont
Legalizing same-sex marriage.
Overview. Senate committee activity.
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
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
"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"
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
"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
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
"... 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
"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. ..."
"Vermontís 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
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
"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
"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]:
||"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.
||"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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- 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.
- 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/
- "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/
- "Editorial: The time has come for marriage equality," Burlington Free
Press, 2009-MAR-17, at: http://burlingtonfreepress.com/
- Kathleen Gilbert, "Vermont Begins Hearings on Same-Sex 'Marriage' Bill,"
LifeSiteNews, 2009-MAR-17, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
- 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