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Vermont Governor Signs Same-Sex Union Bill
April 26, 2000 7:12 pm EST

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Reuters) - Vermont's governor on Wednesday signed
landmark legislation granting the full benefits of marriage to same-sex
couples in the state.

"This is a statement that Vermont values people for who they are, not
what they are," Democratic Gov. Howard Dean said after signing the
first-in-the-nation law extending virtually all the benefits of marriage to
gay and lesbian couples.

Under the Vermont law, same-sex couples will be able to enter into a
legal institution intended to be the parallel of marriage. They will be able
to go to any town clerk for a civil union license which may then be
"certified" by a justice of the peace or a willing clergy member.

If the union is to be dissolved, the matter will be handled by Vermont's
Family Court just as divorces are, a lawyer involved in the issue said.

The civil union law, which will go into effect on July 1, will have no
impact on federal law relating to marriage. But it is expected to have a
profound effect on many laws in this rural New England state including
adoption, inheritance and health care.

Dean signed the measure in his office just one day after the Vermont
House of Representatives gave its final approval and then held a news
conference afterward.

"This law defines in statute that marriage is between a man and a
woman, which is important to many of the Vermonters we have heard
from," he said. "But I believe it also meets the Vermont Supreme Court
mandate that gay and lesbian couples receive the same legal rights,
benefits and obligations now enjoyed by married couples."

In its December ruling, the Vermont Supreme Court said it was up to the
legislature how to structure a law, but that the result must offer equal
protection to both categories of couples.

"It's great that he signed the bill. It's nice to know that it's official," said
Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders lawyer Mary Bonauto, one of
three attorneys who argued the case of three same-sex couples before
the state's high court.

Dean, who runs for re-election in November, has said his office was
barraged by some 20,000 letters opposing the measure. "Undoubtedly
this will be an election year issue...but the legislators that voted on it
didn't think about politics and, frankly, neither did I...," he said.

"This will happen in other states," he predicted.

Gay advocate groups also hope Vermont's moves will have far-reaching
ramifications for a growing national debate about the rights of same-sex

A nationwide Harris poll conducted in January found that 56 percent of
those questioned favored expanding laws that ban discrimination against

Bonuato predicted that Vermont's legislation will be used as a "model by
other state legislatures to follow. After this goes into effect, they'll see
that it is good for families, that it makes people happy and feel more
secure, that it doesn't cost states anything and the sky doesn't fall in."

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