Vermont Still Has a Way To Go

On April 18, the Vermont state senate passed historic legislation that legalized "civil unions" for gay and lesbian couples. The bill, which created what has been called "the closest thing to gay marriages," granted these couples approximately 300 of the rights and benefits associated with traditional marriage, including inheritance rights, tax breaks, family leave benefits, the power to make medical decisions for a spouse and immunity from testifying against a spouse in court. There is no Vermont residency requirement to obtain such a license, so although the partnership will not be recognized in other states, out-of-state couples can symbolically validate their unions there.

California and Hawaii offer limited recognition of "domestic partnerships," but Vermont's new policy is the most liberal in the country. In fact, the state, where, according to Gov. Howard Dean, equal treatment is a "long-standing tradition," stops short at just of one thing: Actually calling it marriage.

If the state is willing to seriously acknowledge the commitment of two people, going so far as to require dissolution of the civil union contract by a family court, why not just call it marriage, since that is exactly what it is? The word itself is hardly what makes the institution sacred. If Vermont is progressive enough to grant these rights, it should afford the small, yet significant, victory to the gay and lesbian community by allowing them to authenticate their unions.

State Sen. John Crowley expressed fears that the legislation would lead to an increase in homosexuality, as though the state was granting gay and lesbian couples special treatment and lucrative benefits. Since the bill grants nothing more than the rights that opposite-sex married couples enjoy, Crowley need not fear that heterosexuals will seek civil unions when they can just as easily marry a member of the opposite sex. Government conservatives such as Crowley should not allow their homophobic prejudices cloud their judgement in granting constitutional rights to their constituents.

The fact is, by refusing to call same-sex unions "marriages," conservative groups are attempting to impose their personal opinions on the gay lifestyle, seemingly more concerned with trying to eradicate homosexuality than with preserving the sanctity of marriage. Homosexuals and lesbians aren't going anywhere. Whatever their partnerships are called, and whatever benefits they are granted, their relationships will continue, to the dismay of right-wingers everywhere.

As to whether or not same-sex unions undermine traditional marriages, state Sen. James Leddy said, "there is...nothing in the committed relationships of two people that presents a threat to my [28-year] marriage." The state of traditional marriage would be no more affected by same-sex marriages than it would be by "civil unions."