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Act No. 3


Domestic relations; marriage

This act redefines civil marriage as the legal union of two people. To qualify to marry, the couple may not be related to one another and must be at least 18 years old unless a minor has the consent of a parent.

When the act takes effect on September 1, 2009, same-sex couples will have access to the civil marriage laws but may no longer establish a civil union. Couples with existing civil unions will be permitted to marry one another. The civil marriage does not dissolve the civil union. Civil unions established before September 1, 2009 will continue to be recognized in Vermont, regardless of whether the couple chooses to marry.

Couples who reside outside Vermont may marry in Vermont if they meet the qualifications under our state law even if they would not be permitted to marry in their home state. The marriage would be considered valid in Vermont; however, the couple's home state would determine if it is valid in that jurisdiction and for what purposes.

The act provides that clergy are authorized to solemnize marriages but are not required to solemnize any particular marriage. A clergyperson who refuses to solemnize a marriage is afforded immunity from civil lawsuit under the statutes. A clergyperson may choose to regularly solemnize heterosexual marriages but refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages.

The act provides similar protections to religious organizations through an exemption in the law of public accommodations. Religious organizations and their related nonprofit organizations are not required to provide services or facilities to any person if the purpose is related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. A church may selectively provide such services to some individuals while denying them to others, and the refusal shall not give rise to any civil claim or cause of action.

The act clarifies that the civil marriage laws are not to be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of its members or to determine the scope of beneficiaries and do not require a society "that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the society's free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or by Chapter I, Article 3 of the Constitution of the State of Vermont."

Finally, the act directs the staff of the legislative council, in its statutory revision capacity, to make such amendments to the Vermont Statutes Annotated as are necessary to effect the purpose of the act, including substituting the words "civil marriage" for the word "marriage." Such changes are to be made when new legislation is proposed or when there is a republication of a volume of the Vermont Statutes Annotated.

Vetoed by the Governor: April 6, 2009

Veto overridden by vote of the General Assembly: April 7, 2009

Effective Date: September 1, 2009