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VLS Professors' Testimony Highlighted in Legislative Report on Same-Sex Marriage

April 22, 2008

CONTACT: Diane Derby, Director of Media Relations

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT – The testimony of three Vermont Law School professors and the work of a VLS graduate figure prominently in a report issued this week by a legislative committee formed to weigh public opinion on whether Vermont should allow same-sex marriage.

The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Marriage took testimony during an October 2007 hearing at VLS, where Professors Greg Johnson, Peter Teachout and Michael Mello offered differing views and interpretations of Vermont's civil unions law. Joining them was Monte Stewart of the Utah-based Marriage Law Foundation, an opponent of same-sex marriage.

"The afternoon (at VLS) provided the Commission with valuable information and an interesting range of views and opinions," the report states. "The Commission members had the opportunity to ask questions of each scholar, and this clarified certain points and enabled the speakers to delve into some areas in greater detail."

The commission's report comes eight years after the Vermont Legislature adopted its landmark civil unions law, which extended all of the same rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples but stopped short of marriage. The report does not offer a specific recommendation on whether Vermont should adopt same-sex marriage, but suggests areas for further study. Download a pdf of the report.

The report cites Johnson's testimony and his opinion that civil unions should remain an option even if the state were to enact same-sex marriage. "The fullest flowering of freedom in relationship and family choices would come when we break away from the limited binary view of marriage or nothing," said Johnson. An expert in sexual orientation and the law, he testified before both the House and Senate when the Vermont Legislature was considering civil unions in 2000.

Teachout, a constitutional expert, urged the General Assembly to weigh the fairness and equality issues posed by civil unions and marriage independent of the Vermont Supreme Court's Baker decision and come to its own conclusion about what the Vermont Constitution requires. He also suggested that the issue be put to voters for an advisory referendum.

Mello, who has written extensively on the subject, told the commission that "the time had come to give civil unions a respectful burial," saying the Vermont Legislature arrived at the civil unions approach because of the political reality that faced lawmakers as a result of the Baker decision. Same-sex marriage in Vermont, he said, "is an idea whose time has come."

The commission also credited the work of Michele Childs, an attorney with the Office of Legislative Council who provided research, drafting and assistance to the committee. Childs is a 1996 VLS alumna who has worked for the Vermont Legislature since soon after graduating.

In all, the commission held eight hearings around the state to solicit public input and report back to the legislature. In those hearings, supporters of same-sex marriage outnumbered opponents by roughly 20 to one, the report noted. The legislature is expected to take up the matter during its 2009 session.

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