Monday, April 21, 2008

Vermont commission almost recommends gay marriage

The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection issued its long-awaited report today. The thirty-five page report laid out a substantial case for legalizing same-sex marriage, but fell short of a legalization recommendation. The Commission noted that its charge was not to make a recommendation for or against, but to gather testimony, examine the legal issues, and then place the matter before the state's elected officials for further consideration.

The final section reads as follows:

The Commission’s Recommendations

1. Areas for Additional Study and Review.

The Commission's hearing process provided a forum around the state for Vermonters to express their views on how the civil union law is working and on whether Vermont should permit gay and lesbian couples access to civil marriage. The process was a simple and straightforward one of asking Vermonters to testify and of listening to their thoughts, views, and concerns. The Commission took best advantage of the time available from its volunteer membership, and while our methods were not scientific, the Commission believes this report fairly reflects what is in the hearts and minds of Vermonters.

Nonetheless, the Commission recommends further study and review of the following areas:

♦ What has been the experience of the Massachusetts lesbian and gay couples who have married under Massachusetts law? Are these couples successfully obtaining all of the rights, privileges, and benefits of marriage – under Massachusetts law, federal law, and the laws of other states? Are their marriages more readily understood and more portable than a Vermont civil union?

♦ Can the Vermont income tax system be revised by statute or administrative action to ease the burden that civil union couples face in preparing and filing their returns?

♦ What is the best science available today on the different impacts on children raised in different family structures? Is there a consensus in the research community? How should social science affect the debate over same-sex marriage? How can the research be scrupulously and objectively evaluated before it influences policy-making and legislative action?

♦ If Vermont were to move to full access to marriage for Vermont's lesbian and gay couples, how should the state address the many civil union licenses already issued? Should civil union status remain for those who may want it? Should a civil union couple seeking marriage be required to waive or rescind that license at the time of joining in civil marriage? Or should a civil union couple's license be automatically converted by statute to a marriage license? These are only a few of what are likely to be many such transition questions should Vermont enact same-sex marriage.

2. The Commission's charge does not ask it to make a specific recommendation on whether Vermont should grant gay and lesbian couples access to civil marriage. The 29 Commission believes that making such a recommendation would undercut the purpose and usefulness of its work and this report. Simply put, we were asked to listen to the testimony of Vermonters on these issues, to look at the legal issues, and to report on what we found. It is the role of Vermont's policy-makers and elected officials to read and reflect on this report and in their best judgment determine what steps to take in their role as public servants of the people of Vermont. Accordingly, the Commission does not reach that recommendation.

3. The Commission recommends that Vermont take seriously the differences between civil marriage and civil union in terms of their practical and legal consequences for Vermont's civil union couples and their families. Their testimony and the testimony of their friends and supporters was sincere, direct, impassioned, and compelling. Act 91 represents Vermont's commitment to the constitutional equality and fairness for these citizens, and Vermont should preserve and protect that commitment.

See the entire report (pdf).

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