To: Freedom to Marry Allies
From: Mary Bonauto, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders,
co-counsel in Baker case
Re: Vermont Update
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.
- 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
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
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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 email@example.com.
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
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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
Mary L. Bonauto, Esq.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
294 Washington St., Suite 740
Boston, MA 02108-4608
fax (617) 426-3594