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VT HOUSE S.115 As Enacted: Read the new law!

Talking Points

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  1. What would this bill do?
  2. What would civil marriage provide to same-sex couples that civil unions do not?
  3. What impact will this law have on churches and clergy?
  4. What impact will this law have on children?
  5. Are Vermonters ready to take this step?
  6. Will this distract the Legislature from dealing with the economy?
  7. Isn’t this a significant change to our marriage laws?
  8. Do other states allow same-sex couples to marry?
  9. Do other states have civil union laws?
  10. Are Vermont civil unions recognized in other states?
  11. Will other states recognize marriages between same-sex partners performed in Vermont?
  12. Under current law, are legal marriages between same-sex couples married in Canada, Massachusetts, Connecticut recognized in Vermont?
  13. If Vermont allows same-sex couples to legally marry, will those couples have access to federal legal protections?
  14. What if Vermont simply provided civil union licenses for everyone, and stayed “out of the marriage business.”



Answers

  1. What would this bill do?    

    The bill would eliminate discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in Vermont’s marriage laws, while protecting the right of clergy and religious organizations to refuse to perform marriages contrary to their faith  .BACK TO TOP

  2. What would civil marriage provide to same-sex couples that civil unions do not?     BACK TO TOP

    History has taught us that separate is seldom, if ever, equal, and civil unions are no exception.  Here are some of the benefits currently denied same-sex couples:

    • The Meaning and Dignity of Civil Marriage:  The opportunity to be legally “married” is one of the important benefits of civil marriage.  Most heterosexual couples don’t choose to marry because they’re worried about hospital visitation, inheritance rights, or health insurance.  They marry because they love one another and want to make that legal and public commitment.  Civil marriage has deep personal meaning to many people, gay and straight, and it communicates a couple’s mutual commitment to friends, family, and the broader community in a way that no newly–created title can. Since the founding of our nation, civil marriage has been regulated exclusively by the state; without a civil marriage license issued by the state, a couple cannot be married no matter how long they’ve been together and no matter how committed they are to one another.

    • Fewer Obstacles To Federal Law Protections:  Two obstacles stand between same-sex couples and important federal protections such as Social Security survivor benefits.  One is Vermont’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry.  The second is the federal government’s refusal to recognize such marriages.  If that federal law were repealed tomorrow, same-sex couples in Vermont still would not be able to access important federal protections because we cannot legally marry in Vermont.  Ending discrimination in Vermont’s civil marriage laws is an essential step toward federal legal protections for our families, and will move same-sex couples much closer to the full protections married, heterosexual couples enjoy.
    • Greater Security Traveling to Some States:  Some states, like New York, do not necessarily recognize civil unions, but will recognize valid marriages between same-sex couples.
    • Health Insurance:  Some self-insured employers in Vermont include married spouses of employees in their health plans, but not civil union partners.
    • Inclusion and Equality:  Laws that separate and exclude gay and lesbian Vermonters and our families don’t just affect same-sex couples in committed relationships who want to marry.  They affect every person in our state, sending a message of separation and exclusion that marginalizes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
    •  Privacy: Same-sex couples in Vermont are frequently given forms that ask for marital status.  (They don’t generally ask for the name or gender of one’s spouse.)  This forces gay and lesbian Vermonters to publicly declare their sexual orientation in settings in which it’s irrelevant, and may leave them vulnerable to discrimination based upon their sexual orientation.  BACK TO TOP

  3. What impact will this law have on churches and clergy?    

    The bill expressly reaffirms the United States Constitution’s protection of the freedom of religion, ensuring that no clergy person can be forced to perform a marriage, or sign a marriage certificate, against his or her faith.  Allowing same-sex couples to legally marry will have no impact on those religious communities or clergy that do not wish to celebrate marriages between same-sex partners.  Those churches and faith communities that do embrace same-sex couples—and there are many—will likewise be free to follow their own religious teachings, and clergy who do wish to exercise their legal authority to sign civil marriage licenses for same-sex couples will be free to do so, alongside Justices of the Peace, judges, and individuals specially licensed to solemnize marriages.  BACK TO TOP

  4. What impact will this law have on children?    

    Since 1993, same-sex couples in Vermont have had a legally-protected right to parent children together.  By providing additional inclusion, protection and security to same-sex couples, this law will provide added security to their children.

  5. Are Vermonters ready to take this step?    

    Over a hundred people turned out for each of the eight public hearings of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, almost all in support of the freedom to marry.  Vermonters testifying in favor of marriage equality outnumbered opponents by a 20-1 margin.  Most of Vermont’s daily newspapers have editorialized in support of the freedom to marry, and letters to the editor advocating marriage equality outnumber opposition letters by an overwhelming margin.  The most recent poll found that 58% of Vermonters support or lean in favor of legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples, while only 39% oppose.  By all measures, Vermonters are ready to move forward.  BACK TO TOP
  6. Will this distract the Legislature from dealing with the economy?    

    Our Legislature relies on committees, and it can and does deal with many important matters at a time.  The Legislature has been and will be focused like a laser beam on fiscal and economic matters, but there will be time to deal with a host of other important issues—and this should be one of them.
    The Legislature has so many hard choices to make this year; this bill offers legislators a rare opportunity to have a significant positive impact on the lives of many Vermonters without costing the state a penny.  It’s a great opportunity.

    And this bill truly is part of Vermont’s economic development plan.  Many Vermont businesses have made it clear that making Vermont a discrimination-free zone will enhance their ability to attract the most competitive work force.  And it will benefit our travel and tourism industry by helping Vermont recapture a segment of the tourism business that we lost when Massachusetts began allowing same-sex couples to marry in that state.  BACK TO TOP
  7. Isn’t this a significant change to our marriage laws?    

    Throughout history, when we’ve recognized as a society that discrimination existed within our marriage laws, we have changed those laws.  As a result, the institution of marriage has changed dramatically.  Not that long ago, in many states in this country, the definition of marriage prohibited white people from marrying people of color.  And before that, our marriage laws required women to give up their right to sign contracts or own property when they married their husbands.  Those traditional conceptions of marriage have changed with our evolving understanding of equal rights, fairness and justice.  BACK TO TOP
  8. Do other states allow same-sex couples to marry?    

    Same-sex couples have been legally marrying in Massachusetts since 2004, and in Connecticut since 2008.  In May, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a constitutionally-protected right to marry, and during the ensuing months, many same-sex couples legally married in California.  Sadly, in November, 2008, California voters narrowly passed a ballot measure that eliminated that right.  The measure passed narrowly, by a 52%-48% margin.  Advocates have challenged that measure, and the California Supreme Court is reviewing its constitutionality.

    These states are not the only places where same-sex couples can legally marry.  In Canada, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Belgium gay and lesbian couples can also legally marry.  BACK TO TOP
  9. Do other states have civil union laws?    

    New Jersey and New Hampshire currently have civil union laws. Advocates in these states are working hard to advance their states to full marriage equality.  Several other states have broad domestic partnership laws as well.  BACK TO TOP
  10. Are Vermont civil unions recognized in other states?    

    So far, court decisions on this question have been mixed.  Civil unions are a newly-created status that states may or may not recognize.  The uncertainty leaves same-sex couples unprotected and vulnerable.  BACK TO TOP
  11. Will other states recognize marriages between same-sex partners performed in Vermont?    

    This country is in a period of transition in our marriage laws.  The answer to this question in one state today may be different tomorrow. We do know that there are some states, like New York, that will recognize valid marriages between same-sex partners.  Other states should, but we know the road will be bumpy, and married gay or lesbian couples may still face challenges in many states.

    In connection with these conflicts, these couples can point to hundreds of years of court precedents that help to guide states in sorting through these issues.  That’s important, because the starting point in the traditional legal analysis is that a marriage that was valid where celebrated is valid everywhere.  We don’t have any such starting point with civil unions.  In the end, we won’t have the same security as our heterosexual neighbors until every state in this country, and the federal government, recognize our legal marriages.  BACK TO TOP
  12. Under current law, are legal marriages between same-sex couples married in Canada, Massachusetts, Connecticut recognized in Vermont?    

    They should be, since the law has always recognized that generally (with limited exceptions that don’t apply here) a marriage valid where celebrated is valid everywhere.  So far, in every case we’re aware of in which a legally married same-sex couple has sought a legal protection in Vermont that flows from that marriage, whether from a private employer, a court, or a state agency, they have succeeded. Married same-sex couples with specific questions about their legal rights should talk to a lawyer.  BACK TO TOP
  13. If Vermont allows same-sex couples to legally marry, will those couples have access to federal legal protections?    

    Married same-sex couples in Vermont would be much closer to getting the important federal protections that so many families take for granted. Most people don’t realize that there are two distinct obstacles standing between committed same-sex couples and important federal protections.  First, Vermont doesn’t allow us to legally marry. Second, the federal government says, even if we can marry, it won’t recognize our marriages because of a law known as “DOMA.” If that federal law were repealed tomorrow—and we hope and expect it will be repealed during the Obama Administration, same-sex couples still wouldn’t be entitled to federal protections like Social Security survivor benefits, for example, because Vermont doesn’t allow us to legally marry.  And we can’t even challenge the federal law because Vermont doesn’t let us marry in the first place.

    We can’t ensure access to federal legal protections in a single step, but full marriage equality in Vermont is an absolutely necessary step to opening that door. Vermont can’t force the federal government to stop discriminating, but we can make sure we’re not a part of that discrimination. And we can put the moral authority and persuasion of our state laws on the side of fairness and equality.  BACK TO TOP
  14. What if Vermont simply provided civil union licenses for everyone, and stayed “out of the marriage business?"   

    We aren’t starting from scratch here.  Since our nation’s founding, marriage has been licensed and regulated by the state.  Abolishing civil marriage as a state-regulated institution would be a radical departure from our history—far more dramatic than simply tweaking our existing laws to include same-sex couples.  Moreover, as a practical matter, such a move would subject heterosexual Vermont couples to the same barriers to federal legal protections and recognition in other states as same-sex couples currently face.  Finally, many heterosexual Vermonters would lament the loss of their ability to be legally married, just as many gay, lesbian and bisexual Vermonters lament that we cannot, under current law, legally marry.       BACK TO TOP