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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)
294 Washington Street, Suite 740
Boston, MA 02108.4608
Telephone:  617.426.1350
Facsimile:  617.426.3594

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 19, 2000

Press Contacts:
Mary L. Bonauto, Esq.
Jennifer L. Levi, Esq.
(617) 426-1350

VERMONT SENATE APPROVES CIVIL UNIONS:  FOCUS SHIFTS TO THE HOUSE

Today the Vermont Senate by a vote of 19-11 gave its final approval to a "civil union" bill which grants same-sex couples all of the benefits and protections of marriage under state law.  According to Jennifer Levi, staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), "Today marks another important step forward.  We are that much closer to securing significant legal protections and equality for gay and lesbian couples and families."  GLAD served as co-counsel in Baker v. State, the Vermont Supreme Court decision which was the genesis for today's legislative action.

The Senate proceedings spanned two days culminating in the final vote.  The Senate version approved today included two amendments to the bill.  The first amendment ordered a review commission established by the bill to study how other states will handle the dissolution of civil unions (passed by voice vote).  The second amendment clarifies that the Free Exercise of Religion protections of the Vermont and United States Constitutions apply to the civil union law as they apply to all other laws (passed by a vote of 24-6).

According to Mary Bonauto, co-counsel in Baker v. State and GLAD's Civil Rights Director, "The human dignity and empathy of senators showed through.  Many talked about new insights they gained into discrimination faced by gay people because of the hate mail they received from opponents of the bill.  When non-gay people can walk a mile in our shoes, we are in a new era of understanding.  Time and again Senators said they have come to appreciate being forced to think about why gay people are treated differently.  It is very encouraging that such a large majority of senators thought that discrimination should end."

The bill still faces a significant hurdle next Tuesday when the Vermont House of Representatives will vote on whether to approve the Senate version of the bill.  The House approved its own version on March 16 (passed 76-69).  Although the differences between the bills are considered minor, House members who supported the bill are under extreme pressure now to vote against it.

Founded in 1978, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) is New England's leading legal rights organization for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and people with HIV.  GLAD's mission is to achieve full equality and justice for all individuals in these groups, primarily through impact litigation and education.