A halfway win for gay couples
By John Cloud
December 27, 1999
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EST (1640 GMT)
Four years ago, a group of lesbian and gay Vermonters got
together in the basement of an Episcopal church to plot the
redefinition of marriage. Among them were a nurse, a few lawyers
and a pair of Christmas-tree farmers. They thought the state
should treat their relationships no differently from those of
heterosexuals, and they eventually brought a lawsuit.
Last week the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with them, sort of.
The court ruled, as no appellate court ever had, that gay couples
have a right to the same benefits as heterosexual couples--with
one monumentally symbolic exception. Same-sex couples still
cannot obtain a marriage license.
Instead the court told the legislature to decide how best to
extend to gays the perks married people enjoy, such as state tax
breaks. It gave lawmakers the option to grant gays marriage
licenses, but didn't require that step. The Governor is leaning
toward a less controversial alternative: authorization of the
arrangement known antiseptically as domestic partnership.
If the state takes that route, the lawyers who initiated last
week's case will go back to the state supreme court to argue that
domestic partnerships are a separate-but-equal injustice.
However, if Vermont decides to allow full marriage rights, gay
activists will have a platform from which to challenge the
so-called Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law banning federal
recognition of same-sex marriages.
Nationally, combatants now focus on California, which will hold a
referendum on marriage March 7. Robert Glazier, spokesman for the
side that opposes gay marriage, says he wants Californians to
ensure that "five people in black robes in Vermont don't make
this decision for us."
--By John Cloud
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Cover Date: December 31, 1999