Archive for Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Other states could follow Vermont’s civil unions lead

July 25, 2000


— Since Vermont became the first state in the nation to grant gay and lesbian couples nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage, politicians from New Hampshire to California have been intrigued about how they can follow suit.

Many gay-rights advocates say Vermont will remain a pioneer on the issue for a while -- until the public becomes more comfortable with the idea. Still, some lawmakers are already working on laws modeled after the one in Vermont, which broke new legal ground without wandering into the politically volatile thicket of marriage.

In the New York state Senate, Manhattan Democrat Tom Duane, who is gay, is drafting a bill that would be similar to Vermont's civil unions law, although details are still being worked out.

In Rhode Island, Democratic state Rep. Michael Pisaturo of Cranston is working on legislation that would go even further -- expanding his state's marriage laws to include homosexual couples.

"I would not introduce anything but marriage," said Pisaturo, who is also gay. "I don't necessarily see something like civil unions or domestic partnerships as a stepping stone to marriage."

Vermont's law, which took effect July 1, gives gay and lesbian couples a parallel but separate legal option called civil unions.

The civil unions, which are not recognized by other states and confer no marriage benefits under federal law, nonetheless entitle same-sex couples to receive tax benefits and inheritance rights and to make medical decisions on behalf of a partner, for example.

Advocates also see opportunities in New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California for laws granting marriage benefits, either through marriage itself or through a compromise like Vermont's.

"I think the situation we're in is Vermont will be there and will have to have the courage of its convictions for a while and then, I think, it will fall into place in a number of spots," said Beatrice Dohrn, a lawyer for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which led the failed legal fight in Hawaii for gay marriage.

Thirty-two states have specifically outlawed gay marriage.

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