Vermont Lawmakers Attempt to Extend Civil Union Definition

May 24, 2001 ( - In a move fraught with implications for benefit programs in the state, Vermont's House last night approved a bill that would extend Vermont's civil unions law to include couples who cannot legally marry, as well as to same-sex couples.

The bill given preliminary approval in the GOP-controlled House would provide marriage benefits to those in “reciprocal partnerships.” 

The term would include gay couples, but would also include other couples who cannot legally marry – primarily blood relatives, such as an elderly woman and her adult child, according to the Associated Press.

Actuarial Impact

Insurance experts say those type of partnerships would be so different from marriage that actuarial tables would be so skewed that some companies might stop doing business in Vermont.

Opponents say the plan is an attempt to demean gay relationships.

The bill deadlocked with a 69-69 tie that had to be broken by Speaker Walter Freed.

The bill was scheduled for a final vote today, but at least two House members said they might vote against the bill because they are opposed to any state endorsement of same-sex relationships.

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Peg Flory sponsored the bill, noting that sexual orientation should not be a factor in determining who qualifies for marriage benefits. However, she said an outright repeal of civil unions would be unconstitutional.

That Was Then
Last year Vermont lawmakers recognized civil unions that give gay couples all the rights and privileges available to married couples under state law.  That law came after a Vermont Supreme Court ruling.

At that time the 150-member House had a 77-67 Democratic majority with four Progressives and two independents.  At present Republicans enjoy the advantage, 83-62, with four Progressives and one independent. Some Republicans campaigned on a promise to try to repeal civil unions.

However, the measure appears doomed in the still Democratic-controlled Senate. Additionally, Democratic Governor Howard Dean, who signed the civil unions law, has also said he would veto a repeal.

– Nevin Adams