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For week ended December 26, 1999 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

Vermont Supreme Court Deals Setback to Defense of Marriage
Associated Press 20Dec99 N1
By Ross Sneyd: Associated Press Writer

MONTPELIER, VERMONT -- The Vermont Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Gay couple must be given the same benefits and protections given married couples. The ruling is the first by a state Supreme Court in the United States. It also complicates the LDS Church supported fight to prevent same-sex marriages.

The court did not permit same-sex couples to marry, instead leaving it up to the Vermont legislature to decide whether the benefits will come through traditional marriage or through some sort of domestic partnership arrangement. The court said that regardless of the system used, the law "must conform with the constitutional imperative to afford all Vermonters the common benefit, protection, and security of the law."

Earlier this month, the Hawaii Supreme Court ended a court case that sought to legalize same-sex marriages in that state, after a 1998 amendment to the state constitution resolved the case by prohibiting same-sex marriage.

Earlier rulings in the Hawaii case led to both attempts by the LDS Church to intervene and nationwide efforts, supported by the LDS Church, to keep marriages from being recognized in other states. Marriages in one state are recognized by another state in the U.S., except that 30 states have now passed laws refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and the U.S. Congress passed a law allowing states to refuse to accept these marriages. Gay activists say that these laws all violate the U.S. Constitution's requirement that states give each other their "full faith and credit." Should the Vermont legislature opt to allow same-sex marriage, the constitutionality of these laws would likely be challenged.

The Vermont case started with a lawsuit filed in July 1977 by three same-sex couples seeking to marry after they were denied marriage licenses by town clerks. In arguments before the Vermont Supreme Court 13 months ago, they said that the refusal to grant them marriage licenses denied them over 300 benefits from the state government and more than 1,000 benefits from the federal government.

The ruling leaves same-sex marriage opponents with two legal avenues in the state. Since the ruling is based on the Vermont state constitution alone, it can't be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Opponents of same-sex marriages are left with either limiting the arrangements to domestic partnerships that have all the same benefits of marriage, or seeking an amendment to Vermont's state constitution.

After the decision on Monday, the LDS Church issued a statement to the Salt Lake Tribune saying, "As the legislative process moves forward, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urges the citizens of Vermont and their elected representatives to protect the uniqueness and sanctity of traditional marriage and to preserve the family as the basic unit of society."

See also:

Benefits Due Gay Couples Salt Lake Tribune (AP) 21Dec99 N1 By Christopher Graff: Associated Press The Salt Lake Tribune's Hilary Groutage contributed to the Tribune version of this AP story.


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