Gay marriage commission meets for the first time

No fireworks. No fights. Not even a raised voice.

Vermont’s cautious step toward considering gay marriage began very quietly Thursday morning as the so-called Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection held its first meeting.

After the meeting – the only real controversy came at about 9:30 a.m. when gay marriage opponents held a short press conference explaining why they are boycotting the hearings – I chatted with a few political observers who were around the Statehouse seven years ago during the civil unions debate.

And what struck them was how low-key the whole thing was. They didn’t expect the room to be full, but at least packed. A few signs maybe too. Some activists maybe, both for and against. But nothing like that happened and nothing resembling the circus in 2000.

It gave me some pause and some hope. No matter where someone falls on the touchy subject of gay marriage, it is clear that most people don’t want to fight over it. I think we can welcome the discussion and the debate, but not raised voices, clenched fists and off-color signs.

-Dan Barlow

3 Responses to Gay marriage commission meets for the first time

  1. green mountain 05401

    The commission has an official name. The author’s decision to preface the official name with “so-called” is at best redundant and more likely a sign of bias.
    I’m sure the name was carefully chosen to highlight the importance of marriage to the protection of families.

  2. green mountain 05401

    Before people continue to perpetuate the idea that marriage equality is inconsequential, I would ask them to please explore the issue a little further.
    This issue has profound spiritual, emotional, health, legal and financial consequences for thousands of Vermonters. Our needs and concerns are as valid as anybody else’s. Take a look at the article below for an example of what gay couples face. I can understand how Marvin Burrows feels. I’m proud of my state and I want Vermont to do the right thing. Thanks!
    Same-sex pension benefits won for ILWU members
    By Josh Richman
    San Jose Mercury News
    Article Launched:08/23/2007 01:36:08 AM PDT
    Marvin Burrows of Hayward simply wanted what he believed his late partner of 51 years had left him, but by pursuing it, he apparently has won new rights for about 5,500 union members and retirees across Northern California.
    Burrows, 71, has fought for pension benefits left by his partner, Bill Swenor, since Swenor’s death in March 2005 at age 66. Last week, International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals 6 and 17 – based in Oakland and West Sacramento, respectively – announced they had renegotiated their contracts to grant pension benefits to domestic partners, and made the change retroactive to include Burrows.
    “Our union’s motto is, `An injury to one is an injury to all,’ and we definitely feel that applies in this case,” ILWU spokesman John Showalter said Wednesday, adding that the union was proud to have worked with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to address Burrows’ case.
    The San Francisco-based rights center went to bat for Burrows in July 2005 after the Emeryville-based Industrial Employers and Distributions Association – representing more than 150 public- and private-sector employers in their labor relations – twice rejected his claims for Swenor’s pension benefits, citing that federal law doesn’t recognize same-sex couples as spouses.
    But Showalter said Burrows’ case inspired the ILWU locals to renegotiate their pact with IEDA so Burrows and others in his situation aren’t left in the lurch.
    “We’re thrilled for Mr. Burrows beyond words. We’re so delighted that he finally – after 2 1/2 years – has got the benefits he was entitled to, the respect and the recognition,” NCLR Elder Law Project coordinator Joyce Pierson said Wednesday.
    “For surviving heterosexual spouses, marriage automatically ensures access to pension and retirement benefits,” Pierson said. “We applaud the ILWU for doing the right thing. We should not forget, however, that the vast majority of same-sex partners in California still do not have this protection.”
    Showalter was unsure Wednesday whether other ILWU locals’ contracts allow domestic partners to receive their deceased partners’ pension benefits.
    According to its Web site, the ILWU has about 42,000 members in more than 60 local unions; 3,500 members belong to the union’s Marine Division.
    Burrows said the past two years have been hard, mostly due to the sudden loss of his lifelong love but also in surviving on his own $300-a-month pension and $800 a month from Social Security. He had to move out of his home of 35 years, and needed surgery that emptied his checking account, he said; only a friend’s support has kept a roof over his head.
    “Bill was very proud of his union and always was convinced they would do the right thing,” he said, adding that Swenor – who was represented by the ILWU for the 38 years in which he worked at the Owens-Illinois glass manufacturing plant in Oakland – probably wouldn’t have thought it would take so long. “He would’ve been shocked that this happened.”
    The battle has prompted him to volunteer with the pro-gay-marriage group Marriage Equality, he said. “I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had to go through.”

  3. Marvin Burrows won his deceased lovers pension because of DOMESTIC PARTNER benefits that the ILWU adopted after his partner’s death. Mr. Burrows wanted the ILWU to back date their adoption of the DOMESTIC PARTNER policy so that he could collect benefits. The ILWU has done that. They did the right thing. However, for Mr. Burrows to falsely claim that he would not have had similar problems with a state “marriage” policy is dishonest. Mr. Burrows should be grateful that California has marriage equality entitled Domestic Partners. (California law says that all laws, regulations and court decision which apply to marriage equally apply to registered domestic partners. Changing domestic partners or civil unions to “marriage” will not achieve one more right nor give us access to 1138 federal marriage rights which the Vermont Freedom to Marry web site claims.)