Legislative hearings on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Vermont began this week. Vermont currently allows civil unions, but the current bill would expand benefits offered to same-sex couples.
Former state Representative Republican Tom Shelburne, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee in 2000, testified that “The question before this committee is if Act 91 is fulfilling its promise. Allowing same-sex couples to marry would grant them access to less tangible benefits. This would include the use of words such as marriage, wedding, marry, celebration and divorce words that have historical, social and cultural significance,” according to United Press International.
Marcia Merrill, chair of the Vermont Commission on Women, testified that “as women, we are no strangers to discrimination. We know the injustice of inequality. We know what it is like to be considered second-class citizens [allowing same-sex marriage] is just the right thing to do,” according to the Times Argus.
Vermont became the first state to give civil recognition to gay and lesbian couples with the passage of legislation that established civil unions in the state in 2000. At the time, this law granted same-sex partners the most comprehensive system of domestic partner benefits in the nation, qualifying them for the some 300 rights and benefits available to married couples in the state.