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Materials Submitted by AASP
to the House Judiciary Committee
of the Vermont Legislature

 
 

 

January 27, 2000


In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court issued an opinion in Baker v. State.  The court ruled that the exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefits and protections of marriage violated the state constitution.  The court ordered the Legislature to correct this violation within a reasonable period of time.   The Legislature was told to either legalize same-sex marriage or to enact a comprehensive domestic partnership act that would confer all of the benefits (and obligations) of marriage on registered partners.

Leaders of the Legislature decided to give the House Judiciary Committee the primary responsibility for developing a legislative response to Baker v. State.  That committee held a series hearings for one month.  Express witnesses, advocates, law professors, and others with special expertise were invited to make presentations to the committee.  Two public hearings were also held at which more than 200 members of the public shared their views on the matter.

Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of the American Association for Single People, was invited to testify before the committee as an expert witness on domestic partnership issues and marital status discrimination.   Coleman's testimony was entitled "Responding to Baker v. State: Legislative Options and Potential Consequences."  He spent several days preparing for the hearing and submitted eight separate documents which comprised more than 400 pages of material. 

Coleman did not advocate for or against the legalization of same-sex marriage or for any other particular result.  Rather, his role was more of an educator, consultant, and expert witness. 

Although he was originally scheduled to testify for only 90 minutes, the legislators kept him on the witness stand for more than three hours.  Since all indications suggested the Legislature was leaning toward adopting a domestic partnership system, Coleman provided the committee with a basic framework for a comprehensive domestic partnership act.

By a margin of 8 to 3, the House Judiciary Committee voted on February 9, 2000, not to legalize same-sex marriage at this time.  Instead, a majority of committee members decided to draft a comprehensive domestic partnership act.   The bill would give domestic partners all of the benefits and protections and obligations that Vermont state law confers on spouses, family members, and dependents.  

While the initial draft of the proposal is currently limited to same-sex couples and would exclude opposite-sex partners and unmarried blood relatives from eligibility, some members of the Legislature would like to see Vermont adopt an inclusive bill open to any two unmarried adults regardless of gender or blood relationship.

Representative Alice Nitka, a member of the Judiciary Committee, expressed disappointment that the draft presented to the committee excluded unmarried adults who could benefit from a domestic partnership act.  She told committee members: "I envision a bill that is more inclusive rather than exclusive.  If I had my choice, I would include gays and lesbians and heterosexuals and blood relatives." 

Representative John Edwards, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, later told the St. Albans Messenger that he too favored a more inclusive bill.  On February 12, 2000, the paper reported: "As examples, he pointed to co-habiting senior citizens, or a mother and daughter living together.  In these instances, financial and emotional burdens the individuals might face alone are made easier because of their domestic partnership, he said." 

Since Baker v. State requires that all of the benefits and protections of marriage must be given to domestic partners, the Legislature has no choice but to enact a comprehensive domestic partnership act.  If gay marriage is not legalized and a domestic partnership act is adopted instead, the only major policy issue which the 150 members of the House and 30 members of the Senate will have to decide is who will be eligible to register as domestic partners. 

Will Vermont enact a law which excludes unmarried heterosexual couples or will it be gender neutral?  Will the new law be limited to sexual relationships or will unmarried blood relatives be allowed to participate too?  In other words, will legislators vote for an inclusive bill or a restrictive bill?  An informative essay, "What's Wrong with Excluding Opposite-Sex Couples from Domestic Partnership" was included among the materials given to the House Judiciary Committee. 

During the week of February 21, 2000, the Judiciary Committee plans to vote on who will be eligible for domestic partnership protection in Vermont.  Will it be a "gays only" law?  Will unmarried heterosexual couples, including seniors, be allowed to participate or will Vermont force them to marry in order to gain legal protections under state law?  Will interdependent unmarried adults who are related by blood be eligible, or will domestic partnership give greater legal protection to sexual relationships than unmarried blood relationships?  Eventually, the entire Legislature will have to answer these policy questions. 

An essay on this topic focuses on the major policy questions to be decided when eligibility criteria are being debated.  See "Who's In and Who's Not: Some Questions to Consider as Vermont Ponders Whether to Pass an Inclusive or Restrictive Domestic Partnership Law."

The following is a list of documents submitted by AASP to the House Judiciary Committee.  Each document contained a short summary of its contents and how the materials inside pertained to the issue on the legislative agenda in Vermont, namely, how to respond to Baker v. State.

    Executive Summary:
    Testimony of Thomas F. Coleman

    Legislative Considerations:
    Some Potential Effects of the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage

    Basic Framework:
    A Domestic Partnership Act for the State of Vermont

    Demographics:
    Marital Status and Households of Adults in Vermont and the USA,
    with Special Emphasis on Domestic Partners

    A Global View:
    Domestic Partnership Laws in Other Nations

    Hawaii Materials:
    Report of the Commission on Sexual Orientation and the Law

    Hawaii Materials:
    Legislative Actions in Sessions 1994 to 1999

    Tulane Law Review:
    "The Hawaii Legislature Has Compelling Reasons to
    Adopt a Comprehensive Domestic Partnership Act"

    Legislative Summary:
    Domestic Partnership Bills Pending in States Throughout the Nation

 

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