Vermont state representative William Lippert is proud to have helped create Vermont's first-in-the-nation law recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples. And now he is happy to have California following Vermont's lead, even if the bill it just adopted stops a little short of where he'd like it to be. The California assembly gave final approval this past week to a law that would grant gay and lesbian couples nearly all of the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage. Gov. Gray Davis has said he will sign it into law.
California's action is "of tremendous significance for the gay and lesbian population in the country simply by the unique place that California holds in our national politics and in the politics of the national gay and lesbian community," said Lippert, one of the authors of Vermont's 2000 law.
Lippert, a Democrat from the Burlington area, believes Vermont helped set the stage for California's action. "I think we set a standard of coming so close to marriage that I'd like to think that has helped California go way beyond their initial efforts to simply have a list of certain rights, but not all rights," Lippert said, adding that he is especially pleased that the California bill requires the state to recognize similar laws in other states. "I think it's of tremendous significance for our national gay and lesbian community that we would have two jurisdictions offering--in law--mutual recognition."
There are a couple of key differences between the California and Vermont initiatives:
Couples in Vermont file their state income taxes jointly, as married heterosexual couples do. That provision was deleted in California, in large measure because of the budget mess confronting the state.
Vermont civil unions must be solemnized or certified in a ceremony overseen by a member of the clergy, a judge, or a justice of the peace. That was left out of California's domestic-partnership bill to make clear that the partnership was not intended to be marriage. When California's law goes into effect on January 1, 2005, couples will merely need to file notarized paperwork with the secretary of state, much as they do now under the state's more limited domestic-partnership registry.