Vermont Governor Signs Landmark Same-Sex "Civil Union" Bill

Vermont Sets Precedent in Offering Fair and Equal Benefits for Gay and Lesbian Citizens, Says HRC

MONTPELIER, Vt.–Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) April 26 signed a historic "civil union" bill that will give gay and lesbian couples the same rights and benefits afforded married couples under state law.

"We commend the Governor for his leadership in signing legislation that goes further than any other state in offering fair and equal benefits to all of its citizens," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "This is a historic moment in our struggle for equality and a monumental leap forward for the legal recognition of our families."

"I think it is a courageous and powerful statement about who we are in the state of Vermont," Gov. Dean said today at a press conference, according to the Associated Press. "I also believe that this legislation speaks to the heart of this state, and certainly to my heart."

Yesterday, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a final version of the "civil union" bill 79-68. The first civil union ceremonies could take place after July 1.

In a preliminary vote in March, the Vermont House voted in favor of a comprehensive civil union bill, and earlier this month the Vermont Senate voted in favor of a bill as well. The bill allows for gay and lesbian Americans to take part in civil unions, just as heterosexual couples can marry. Same-sex couples will be entitled to all 300 or more benefits available under state law to married couples–including medical decisions, estate inheritance, overseeing burials, transferring property and certain tax breaks. Town clerks would be authorized to give same-sex couples licenses, and clergy, justices of the peace or judges would make their unions official. Family divorce courts would handle the dissolution of civil unions.

In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court handed down a decision that mandated that same-sex couples must be offered the same "benefits" and "protections" that married heterosexual couples now receive. In its ruling, the court directed the Vermont Legislature to decide whether these benefits will come through traditional marriage or through a similar arrangement such as a "civil union" bill.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian and gay Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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