Friday, October 21, 2005

Vermont Pushing for Federal CU Benefits

(Link) While civil unions do offer same-sex couples many of the same state-level benefits as straights, Social Security and military pensions are not among them. Vermont's legislators are pushing Congress for equality on the federal-level.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Associated Press

MONTPELIER — More than half of Vermont's 180 lawmakers have signed a letter calling on Congress to make civil-union partners eligible for federal programs like Social Security and military survivor benefits.

"We urge you to extend the same federal statutory legal benefits and protections offered to married couples to those couples who have entered into a state-sanctioned civil union," said the letter from the Vermont legislators to House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The letter, signed by 97 legislators, was made public Thursday.

Vermont became the first jurisdiction in the world to offer the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples when it enacted its civil union law in 2000. From the beginning, though, the state law has not applied to federal benefits for which spouses in a heterosexual marriage are eligible.

Kevin Blier of the Center For American Cultural Renewal, which opposes gay marriage and civil unions, said what the letters signers are seeking would violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it would grant rights to a class of Vermonters not available to residents of states that don't recognize civil unions.

"Vermont needs to be a responsible steward in our federal system and respect the public policy of other states," Blier said in a statement. "I ask, do Vermonters want Nevada's prostitution laws imposed on us?"

Benefits sought for civil union partners include federal inheritance rights, veterans' benefits, immunity in federal court from being compelled to testify against a spouse, tax benefits available to married couples filing jointly, immigration rights and others.

"I'm the only (Vermont) state legislator with a civil union," said Rep. Jason P. Lorber, D-Burlington. "My partner and I are very happy to have a civil union. It's un-American to discriminate. We shouldn't be giving certain benefits only to straight people."

Lorber said he has a cousin who has a partner of more than 10 years. "Her partner is European and doesn't have U.S. citizenship," he said. "They've gone through all the different channels with immigration. They can't marry, so she (his cousin's partner) can't become a U.S. citizen."

He said the couple had decided to move to Canada. "You shouldn't have to choose between your country and the love of your life."

The lawmakers' letter quotes comments by President Bush last year in which he said he did not oppose states offering civil unions to same-sex couples.

"The granting of federal statutory benefits and protections to individuals who have already entered into a state-sanctioned civil union would not constitute the equivalent of establishing a federal definition of marriage," said the letter, whose lead signers were Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Welch.

"Rather, it would enable these individuals to exercise all of the benefits and privileges intended in a state civil union law," it added.

Lorber said he did not know what sort of reception the letter would receive in a Congress controlled by conservative Republicans. He said he did not believe that granting spousal benefits to civil union partners would violate the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The new law the letter is seeking would refer to civil unions and not marriages, he said.

Lorber said Welch and Symington would give the letter to Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., so he can bring it back to Washington.

That presentation was to be made when Frank, who is gay, speaks at a Democratic fund-raiser in Burlington Friday evening that is being hosted by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Vermonters and their supporters.