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VLS, UVM to Discuss Marriage Equality for Same-sex Couples

March 16, 2010

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- To mark the anniversaries of civil unions and legal marriage for same-sex couples in Vermont, Vermont Law School and the University of Vermont will co-host a conference April 15-16 that explores the legal, political, social and religious issues surrounding marriage equality.

Titled "The Law and Politics of Marriage Equality: Vermont, The Nation and the World," the conference will mark the 10th anniversary of civil unions in Vermont, which was the first state to allow civil unions in the United States. The conference also will mark the 2009 approval of the option of legal marriage for same-sex couples in Vermont, which was the first legislative creation of marriage equality in the nation.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will start with a keynote address at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 15 at VLS by Andrew Koppelman, a professor of law and political science at Northwestern University. His address, titled "Careful with that Gun: The New (?) Arguments Against Marriage Equality," will explore how religious conservatives have retooled their opposition to same-sex marriage.

The conference will continue at 9 a.m., Friday, April 16 at UVM with a day-long series of panel discussions on civil unions, legal marriage, parenting rights, religious politics and other issues internationally, nationally and in New England and a look back at Baker v. State, the landmark litigation, legislative debate and law that resulted in civil unions in Vermont.

VLS Professor Greg Johnson, an expert in sexual orientation and the law, testified before the Vermont legislature when it considered the landmark civil unions bill. A decade later, he said grassroots advocates spent a lot of time educating lawmakers and the public about marriage equality before legal action and the legislative debate occurred. He also said more New Englanders are open to marriage equality, in part, because they are less evangelical in their religious beliefs.

"Vermont is a leader in the nation in lesbian and gay civil rights," Johnson said. "We're a strong anti-discrimination state and we should be proud of that."

Jackie Gardina, an associate professor at VLS and an expert in sexual orientation and the law, added: "There is an exciting and amazing group of speakers participating to discuss the latest developments in marriage equality on both the international and domestic fronts."

UVM Associate Professor Felicia Kornbluh, director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the school, said the conference will draw leading scholars and advocates who will use the Vermont anniversaries as launching points to consider how social and legal change have been made in the area of marriage equality.

"They are particularly interested in considering the role of judges and courts in creating change as compared to legislatures, non-governmental advocacy organizations and grassroots protests," Kornbluh said. "They will compare Vermont to other states, will consider the politics of marriage equality at the national level and will compare the U.S. to other countries."

The VLS and UVM scholars plan to use the conference to produce a book for a leading academic press.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations, Vermont Law School



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