Vermont Senate Approves "Civil Union" Bill

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - By a vote of 19 to 11, the Vermont Senate Wednesday approved a "civil union" bill, which opponents contend amounts to the creation of a parallel system of marriage for homosexual couples. The bill now returns to the House to resolve differences.

Democratic Gov. Howard Dean has promised to sign the final version of the bill.

The legislation allows same sex couples to form civil unions, which includes obtaining a certificate from town and city clerks and then going through a certification ceremony, performed by either a judge of a member of the clergy. The bill also affords homosexual couples the same benefits received by heterosexual married couples, including an estimated numerous benefits available under state law, the ability to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners and the opportunity for a host of tax breaks.

Should the union end in divorce, a family court judge would decide the distribution of property, custody and visitation arrangements, in those cases where children are involved, as well as other matters.

However, homosexual couples would still not be eligible for federal benefits available to heterosexual couples, nor would the civil union arrangement be recognized in other states, 30 of which have banned same sex marriage. "If people want to fly in for the weekend and get a civil union license and fly home, it's unlikely they are going to have their home state give it any legal recognition," according to a statement issued by Thomas Little, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

Among the differences to be resolved include the legislation's effective date. The Senate bill sets July 1 as the date, while the House version sets the date as September 1.

Beth Robinson, an attorney who argued before the state Supreme Court that same sex couples were being denied the right to marry and the ensuing benefits and that the denial was unconstitutional, expressed delight at the Senate's action.

The court agreed with Robinson's argument, which led both the House and Senate to address the issue and pass the civil union legislation. "The margin by which it passed shows me the Senate understands that gays and lesbians need and deserve the same protections as heterosexuals in our society and that's a great breakthrough," said Robinson.

In a written statement, issued by the Family Research Council, a spokesman said, "It's a tragic day for the State of Vermont. The Senate has ignored the will of the people...but it's an even sadder day for the state of marriage...the Senate action is a direct assault on this sacred institution."