Press

Vermont Begins to Pave the Way for Fairness for Same-Sex Couples

Date: 
December 20, 1999

Decision guarantees same-sex couples all the rights of marriage except marriage itself

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Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
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Today's historic decision by the Vermont Supreme Court that the state must provide the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples is a ground-breaking ruling that represents a seminal shift in the way gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered families forever will be viewed.

"The court's decision is unique in that it commands that the state give same-sex couples every benefit and protection that it currently provides to married couples," said Paula Ettelbrick, attorney and Family Policy Director at the NGLTF Policy Institute. "The decision is a significant step forward for our community and makes Vermont the second state Supreme Court to rule that the Constitution protects our relationships.

"However, by stopping short of fully recognizing the freedom to marry, the court has opened the door to complete equality but has not constitutionally guaranteed it. Now the battle progresses to the Vermont Legislature," Ettelbrick continued. "We have the opportunity as a community to convince lawmakers to provide the full badge of citizenship by recognizing the freedom to marry."

Ettelbrick noted that Vermont is a logical state to become the first to recognize same-sex civil marriage. It was the first state to offer domestic partner benefits to state workers, one of the first states to recognize second-parent adoptions and one of the first states to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Ettelbrick praised the work of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders and attorneys Mary Bonauto and Beth Robinson. She also praised the individual plaintiffs in the case Ð Holly Puterbaugh and Lois Farnham, Stan Baker and Peter Harrigan and Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles. "These brave individuals have opened the door to fairness, freedom and equality," Ettelbrick said. "The words, Ôliberty and justice for all' have never rung with such clarity and truth."

But Ettebrick warned that Vermont's landmark court decision may now fall squarely within the crosshairs of religious extremists who will step up efforts to demonize the Supreme Court and denigrate GLBT family values. "We expect a backlash and will be prepared to protect the safety and sanctity of GLBT families on the streets, in the courts and in the Vermont Legislature," Ettelbrick said. "We will work arm in arm with members of the Federation of LGBT Statewide Political Organizations in Vermont and throughout New England and in neighboring New York, where the backlash might be most acutely and immediately felt."

Federation members in New York and New England include the Vermont Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the Empire State Pride Agenda of New York, the Connecticut Coalition for LGBT Civil Rights, the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Political Alliance of Western Massachusetts and Out and Equal‹New Hampshire.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.