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To: Freedom to Marry Allies
From:   Mary Bonauto, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, co-counsel in Baker case
Re: Vermont Update

Date:   1/6/00


Now that the initial flurry from the ruling is over, we wanted to thank you for the outpouring of support, let you know what is going on in Vermont and answer the question of  what you can do.

  1.  Marriage is On the Table in Vermont
    We want to correct a misperception that the Court endorsed domestic partnership or some alternative to civil marriage.  That is simply not true.  The Court did not reach the issue of how to remedy the discrimination.  It left that issue to the Legislature, and made clear that allowing issuance of marriage licenses is a definite way to satisfy the Court's ruling.

    The thrust of the Court's ruling is that all Vermonters must receive the protections and benefits which flow from civil marriage.  We are confident that when the Legislature studies the issue, it will conclude the only way to do this is to include same-sex couples in the civil marriage laws.
  2. What the Legislature is Saying
    Some politicians rushed to judgment about a "domestic partnership" alternative to marriage.  It now looks like that  was only a first reaction which is changing with time.

    For example, although Governor Howard Dean initially came out in favor of domestic partnership, he has now stated "This year we must make every effort to comply with the new Supreme Court ruling, which confirms that all Vermonters -- including gay and lesbian Vermonters -- are to have equal benefits under the law.  We were the first state to outlaw slavery in 1777, and we will remain in the forefront of the struggle for equal justice under law."  (State of the State Address, 1/5/00).


    House and Senate leaders and members, including the Republican Chair of the House Judiciary Cte. which will be conducting hearings on the decision, clearly understand that amending the marriage laws to include same-sex couples is an option for them (Memorandum of Rep. Tom Little, 1/5/00).  Even today, the powerful Chair of the Senate Appropriations Cte. endorsed marriage saying "It seems ludicrous to me to have the exact same listing of rights and benefits for same sex and heterosexual couples, but have different names for the commitment process." (Letter of Sen. Jeb Spaulding, 1/6/00).


    People are beginning to hear our message that separate is not equal.  We will work with the Legislature and share with them our information about the "portability" of marriage, how marriage is a gateway to third party benefits like health and pension benefits from private employers, how marriage is a gateway to federal benefits and protections, and why marriage would be simpler, less confusing and less costly than a new elaborate alternative to marriage.
  3. What the Legislature is Doing
    The House Judiciary Cte. will begin hearings on Jan. 11.  They are truly citizen legislators and extremely conscientious and hard working.  They are keeping an open mind about how to proceed.

    The first witness is one of the co-counsel in the case, Susan Murray. Other persons whom the Cte. will ask to testify include the Attorney General, the heads of state agencies, an attorney who represented the Catholic and Mormon Churches in a friend of the Court brief, various scholars, and others.

    The Court did not set a deadline by when the Legislature must act. Instead, it asked the Legislature to act "in a reasonable time."  We know our opponents want to delay, and at least some of them want to do so to give the extremist right wing time to move their machinery into Vermont.

    But justice delayed in justice denied, and every day this lingers is a day our clients and all lesbian and gay Vermonters remain vulnerable under the law.
  4. The Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Committee
    Since 1995, a group of Vermonters have been educating their fellow citizens about the freedom to marry for same sex couples through the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force  (www.vtfreetomarry.org).  A sister organization, the Action Committee, is heading up the lobbying effort.  Contact them at vfmac@sover.net.


    The Action Cte. has hired two lobbying firms:  one with deep connections throughout the State and another with deep connections in the gay community.  They are consummate professionals and know the Vermont Legislature well.  Both believe we have a real shot at marriage.  They are on track and doing all the things you would expect. they need to do.
  5. How You Can Help
    We all appreciate the wave of support and good wishes we've received from around the country.

    If you live in Vermont, please get in touch with the Action Cte. as soon as possible at P.O. Box 1038, Middlebury, VT  05753.  An email contact is vfmac@sover.net.


    If you do not live in Vermont, you can help the Action Cte. in 3 ways.  One is to send money to "Vermont Freedom to Marry Action Cte." at the above address.  Sending money will help allow the Vermont folks to do the work they need to do.


    Second, you can call people you know in VT and talk to them about these issues.  Ask them to get in touch with the Action Cte. and to call and write to their elected representatives.


    Third, you can continue to do work on this issue in your HOME STATE.  Vermont has made as much progress as it has because Vermonters talked with their fellow community members about their lives and why they should have the freedom to marry.  It makes a difference -- even if you're in a state with a so-called "mini-DOMA."  The extremist right has renewed efforts on enacting anti-marriage and anti-gay marriage laws in a variety of states:  it is vital to defeat those efforts, and to win in California.   Please contact your local state or regional organization, or the clearinghouse for the National Freedom to Marry Coalition at ewolfson@lambdalegal.org.

    One thing that is NOT helpful is for non-Vermonters to call the Governor or Legislature.  The Governor's office has now been flooded with calls from people supporting us (after a batch of Dr. Laura-inspired calls) and they are getting annoyed with everyone.  Please disregard emails you have received from whatever source asking you to call the Governor's office.

Best wishes, and please don't hesitate to contact GLAD if you have concerns or questions.


Mary L. Bonauto, Esq.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
294 Washington St., Suite 740
Boston, MA  02108-4608
(617) 426-1350
fax (617) 426-3594

email: mbonauto@glad.org