APRIL 28, 2000 • HOUSTON VOICE
Civil unions recognized in Vermont
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (left) is congratulated by Rep. Bill
Lippert, the only openly gay member of Vermont's legislature, in
his office at the Statehouse after Dean announced at a press conference that he had signed the civil unions bill info law earlier in
the day Wednesday.
>* Continued from Page 1
"The possibilities for our families and, indeed, the shape
of our movement are forever changed," said Beatrice
Dohrn, legal director for the national Lambda Legal Defense
& Education Fund.
"Vermont has sent a signal to the entire nation that it is no
longer tolerable to deny lesbians and gay couples the
respect other couples take for granted."
GLAD served as co-counsel in a lawsuit brought by three
gay Vermont couples seeking to marry their same-sex partners, while Lambda filed "friend of the court" briefs in the
The state Senate approved the civil unions bill April 18,
but made changes that required the measure to be approved
again by the House—where many feared it could lose votes,
making passage questionable.
One representative who was absent for the first House
ballot voted in favor of the measure, while two who originally voted against the civil union bill changed and voted in
favor of the measure's final passage. Both supported the
concept of gay unions all along, but initially said the proposed legislation didn't go far enough.
Rep. William Mackinnon had argued that gays should
£ receive the full institution of marriage, while Rep. James
h Colvin wanted civil unions to be open to unmarried hetero-
£ sexual couples as well.
h The new civil union law is "a step, just a step,"
* Mackinnon said, according to the Associated Press. "I promise that I for one will remain ever-vigilant to any discrimination that may continue here in Vermont."
Governor says 'time to heal'
In an interview with Vermont Public Television prior to
the legislature's final vote, Dean said he understands that
some Vermonters oppose the bill, but he feels it is necessary
to lessen discrimination.
"I have been governor for nine years; my kids were born
in this state and I am not going to do anything that I think
would harm this state—ever," Dean said.
Opponents have argued that lawmakers weren't listening
to vocal criticism from some citizens, but Dean said he disagreed.
"I think legislators have listened to the public. There is a
difference between listening to people and agreeing with
them," he said.
The will .of the majority can't trample on the rights of
minorities. Dean said. "In Alabama, in 1964, if you had put
the question of whether African Americans ought to be able
to vote equally and hold property, the vote would have been
'no,'" he said.
Recognition for gay unions is a civil rights issue, "but it is
not the same civil rights issue as if you were African
American and had no right to vote," Dean said later in the
"Obviously, gay and lesbian people have the right to vote
and to own property and so on," he explained.
"The reason it is a civil rights issue is this: People are beaten and in some cases killed because they are gay or lesbian
in the same way other minority groups are beaten or killed
because they are members of minority groups."
Dean also said he disagreed with those who said gays
would "flock" to Vermont to register their unions. The
state's secretary of the Agency of Commerce and
Community Development has also said there was no reason
to expect "any substantial negative or positive impact on
Vermont businesses" as a result of civil unions.
Dean quietly signed the bill behind closed doors in an
effort to help begin healing the rift the legislation has caused
across the state.
"In politics, bill signings are triumphal," he said. "They represent overcoming of one side over another. These celebrations, as the subject of the matter of the bill, will be private."
Other states unlikely to recognize unions
The House version of the bill originally wanted the law to
go into effect two months later, but representatives agreed
Tuesday with the Senate's earlier deadline, the only substantive change between the two versions. Tax and insurance provisions will not go into effect until 2001.
To register their partnership, gay couples who are over 18
and not closely related by blood will be able to get a "civil
union" license from their town clerk, just as heterosexual
couples receive marriage licenses. The unions could then be
Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, L.L.P
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