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Civil Unions News

This page is an archive of articles presented on the Current News page of the USConstitution.net site concerning Vermont's Civil Union Law.


03/06/02 Massachusetts court to take up gay marriage
The top court in Massachusetts is taking up the issue of gay marriage in a case brought by seven gay and lesbian couples. The suit asks the courts to redefine what marriage means, hoping the court will do for them what the legislature has not done. One of the couples, Ed Balmelli and Mike Horgan, have gotten a civil union in Vermont, but are concerned about their lack of rights, even in a hospital setting, in their home state.


07/27/02 NC paper announces civil union
In a first for the Fayetteville Observer, a local gay couple who traveled to Vermont for civil union had their union announced in the wedding listings. Response, says the paper, has been polarized, with most local reaction being negative and most national reaction being positive. The paper said that it would run more in the future, assuming the union is recognized by a government and at least one of the party is a local resident.


07/24/02 Connecticut court won't dissolve civil union
A Connecticut judge ruled that he does not have the power to dissolve the civil union of a Connecticut couple, because the state does not recognize civil unions. Vermont will not dissolve the union of Glen Rosengarten and Peter Downes either, because the couple does not live in Vermont. The two were joined in 2000. After the couple split, Rosengarten applied in a Connecticut court for dissolution. The dissolution was sought to ensure inheritance rights for Rosengarten's adult children. Rosengarten's attorney has advised his client to appeal the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court.


01/23/02 Ruling Georgia case rejects civil unions
The case of Susan Freer, who asked that a Georgia court find her civil union to be a marriage under the terms of a custody arrangement, has been turned down by a Georgia appeals court. The court ruled today that for the purposes of the custody agreement (which requires that Freer be married to any live-in partner in order to continue visitation), Freer's civil union is not a marriage.


01/03/02 Challenges to Civil Unions law rejected
The Vermont Supreme Court announced today that on 12/26/01, it rejected a challenge to the Vermont Civil Union law brought by taxpayers, town clerks, and lawmakers. The suit asserted that the law was invalid because several lawmakers entered into a betting pool over the outcome of a preliminary vote in the Vermont House. It also asserted that town clerks with religious objections to civil union were discriminated against by the law. The first assertion was denied because the discipline of House members is left to the House itself according to Chapter 2, Section 14 of the Vermont Constitution. The justices did not rule directly on the second assertion, but did note that it found it questionable whether a public official could remain in office while refusing to perform any duty on religious grounds. The Court also pointed out that the law allowed town clerks to appoint an assistant to issue civil union licenses.


10/11/01 Georgia couple sues for married status
A lesbian couple joined in civil union in Vermont is arguing in front of a Georgia appeals court that their union should be recognized by Georgia. One half of the couple, Susan Freer, has children from a prior marriage. A state court has barred her from seeing her children while she lives with someone out of wedlock. Freer and her companion Debra Freer (Susan took Debra's name) were joined in Vermont after civil unions were approved, and her children were barred from seeing her ever since. As of September, 2001, almost 2500 civil union licenses have been issued, with only 20% of those going to Vermont residents.


07/01/00 First-ever civil union licenses issued
With several town clerks opening for unusual Saturday office hours, or opening at the stroke of midnight, Vermont's civil union law took effect, allowing same- sex couples to ability to join in legally recognized unions. Like marriage in many ways, but not in name, civil unions allow gay couples to enjoy all of the Vermont-sanctioned benefits of marriage as ordered by Vermont's Supreme Court. Non-resident couples may also join in a civil union, though the union will not be recognized in their home state. Though official statistics won't be available for some time, at least a dozen licenses were issued Saturday, about half to out-of-state couples. Lois Farnham and Holly Peterbaugh, whose denial of a marriage license in 1997 led to the law suit that prompted the civil unions law, united in civil union on Saturday, lending legal recogniztion to their 28-year partnership.


04/27/00 Civil Unions now the law in Vermont
With the sweep of his pen, Vermont Governor Howard Dean signed the landmark civil unions bill into law today. The law, which allows gay couples to join in a civil union, granting all of the rights and privileges of marriage, will go into effect on July 1, 2000, with some portions of the bill set to take effect over the next year.


04/25/00 Vermont civil unions bill heads to Governor for signature
The Vermont House today accepted the changes made to its bill by the Senate, negating the need for a potentially problematic conference committee. The bill, which passed by a vote of 79 to 68, has been sent to Governor Howard Dean, who is expected to sign the bill into law on Thursday. The bill is scheduled to start taking effect in July, 2000.


04/18/00 Vermont Senate gives preliminary approval to civil unions bill
In a 19-11 vote, the Vermont Senate approved a slightly modified version of the civil unions bill sent to it by the Vermont House. Final approval is expected tomorrow, at which time the bill will be sent back to the House, where the Senate's changes will either be accepted, or the bill will go to a conference committee. Two attempts to introduce constitutional amendments failed.


04/04/00 GOP candidate Keyes to speak in Vermont about civil union
The Vermont Senate's Republican Leader John Bloomer (R-Rutland) said that he had been contacted by the campaign of GOP dark horse candidate Alan Keyes - Keyes wished to address the Senate Judiciary Committee about the proposed civil unions bill. Committee Chair Richard Sears (D-Bennington) did not allow Keyes to testify in front of the committee, since he is not a Vermonter. Sears said that if a out-of-stater with an opposite view point from Keyes wished to address the committee, then the balanced testimony might be allowed. Keyes opposes civil unions as proposed in Vermont. Instead, Keyes will address interested senators and others in the statehouse on April 6, 2000.


03/17/00 Vermont House passes civil unions bill
In a 76-69 vote today, the Vermont House passed H.847, a bill that creates a legal coupling for gay and lesbian couples who cannot legally marry. The bill defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and provides for "civil unions" for same-sex couples. The bill also provides for a "reciprocal benefits" feature, for use by, for example, elderly sisters. Reciprocal benefits affect mostly medical decisions. The bill now proceeds to the Vermont Senate, where passage is expected. The Governor has vowed to sign the bill.


03/06/00 Vermont partnership bill clears another hurdle
The Vermont House's Ways and Means Committee approved the Civil Union bill by a narrow 6-5 margin. The Committee needed to approve the bill because it will affect Vermont tax provisions. Several members of the committee tried to move the bill to the House floor without a vote, but the full committee felt a vote was important, including Chair Oreste Valsangiacomo, who opposes the bill. The vote was not split on party lines, illustrating both the bipartisan support, and the bipartisan opposition, that the bill faces in the full House.


03/01/00 Vermont legislature moves closer to same-sex unions
The House Judiciary Committee approved a plan that adds "civil union" to the Vermont statutes. Civil unions provide same-sex couples with most of the benefits of marriage; in the legislation, marriage is declared to be exclusively a man/woman union. Civil unions would be performed by justices or by clergy, though no clergy member would be forced to perform a civil union ceremony. Dissolution of a civil union would be handled in family court, as are divorces. Another provision provides for a "reciprocal benefits" agreement, allowing pairs of people, such as elderly sisters, to enjoy a small subset of marital and civil union rights, such as the ability to make medical decisions. The bill must now be approved by the full House and sent to the Senate for action. Opponents vow to use the civil union vote against candidates in the next general election, and to continue efforts to pass a constitutional amendment.


02/10/00 Vermont legislative committee rejects same-sex marriage
The Vermont Legislature's Judiciary Committee voted on the three available options in the on-going same-sex marriage saga. The committee voted 8-3 to recommend that the full legislature pass a domestic partner bill. The third option, to do nothing and defy the Vermont Supreme Court, received no support. The supporters of same-sex marriage included two Democrats and a Progressive, with the supporters of domestic partnership included all Republican members and the remaining Democrats. The Governor announced his strong support for the committee's decision. Meanwhile, a group of legislators are proposing the impeachment of the entire membership of the Supreme Court.


01/28/00 Vermont legislator proposes amendment to Vermont Constitution to define marriage
Vermont State Senator Julius Canns (R-Caledonia) is introducing a bill in the Vermont Senate which would propose an amendment to the state constitution, putting the kibosh on the State Supreme Court's ruling about gay marriage rights. The amendment, which would read simply "Marriage is a special label for a partnership between a man and a woman," would be designed to have the same effect as a similar amendment had in Hawaii in 1999. It is unclear, however, if such an amendment would overrule the court ruling, since the ruling is not about who can marry, but who can obtain the privileges of marriage.


12/20/99 Vermont Supreme Court rules in gay marriage case
In a long-anticipated decision, the Vermont Supreme Court today decided in favor of several gay Vermont couples who sued for the right to marry in the state. The Court ruled that gay couples must have an institution that bestows upon them the same rights and privileges as married heterosexual couples. The Court said that it was up to the legislature to decide if that instituion will be marriage or some other formal, state-recognized partnership. The decision stemmed from the requirement in the Vermont Constitution's Article 7, which states that the "government is... instituted for the common benefit... of the people." Because the decision is based on rights held in the Vermont Constitution, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


12/10/99 Hawaii Supreme Court rules that gay marriage suit is moot
The Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled that an effort to legalize gay marriage in Hawaii is moot, because the voters of that state approved a constitutional amendment that specifically allowed legislators to decide if gay marriage should be allowed or not. The case centered around a 1994 law banning gay marriage. The amendment, approved in 1998 by the voters, ensured that the 1994 law would be upheld. The ruling leaves a similar suit in Vermont the only remaining gay marriage case in front of a state supreme court.


8/2/99 Out-of-state group comes to Vermont to protest Supreme Court
With the Vermont Supreme Court as yet silent on its so-called "Gay Marriage" case, Vermont braced for the arrival of a group of protesters from the Topeka, KS, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The WBC, which calls Vermont "fag-filled," will picket the statehouse to protest the case. Vermont groups, even those opposed to the gay marriage case, have vowed to stay away from the protest, wary of the WBC's tactics.


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