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Marriage & Relationships | Marriage | Vermont

Vermont Marriage Q&A

Can same-sex couples marry in Vermont?

Yes. On April 7, 2009, Vermont became the first state to obtain marriage rights for same-sex couples through a legislative process rather than a court case.  The bill, S.115 An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Recognize Equality in Civil Marriage (the “Marriage Act”) (See An Act Relating to Civil Marriage at:  http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2010/bills/Passed/S-115.pdf), was passed by the legislature on April 3, 2009; vetoed by the Governor on April 6, 2009; and the veto was overridden by the Senate (23-5) and the House (100-49) on April 7, 2009.  The Marriage Act took effect on September 1, 2009.

This was the result of nearly 15 years of relentless work by Vermont Freedom to Marry, under the leadership of Beth Robinson. GLAD was pleased to have been able to provide some assistance and support to the effort.

Six years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015)), the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality a reality nationwide when it held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. GLAD’s own Mary Bonauto represented the plaintiffs during oral arguments. Post-Obergefell, all 50 states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and all states must respect the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

How does one get married in Vermont?

The process for getting married in Vermont requires the following basic steps:

  1. an eligible couple submits an application for a license in either the town or city in Vermont where one of the parties lives (out-of-state couples can go to any town or city clerk) (18 V.S.A. § 5131(a)(1));
  2. the couple must pay the applicable fee and receive a marriage license from the clerk;
  3. the couple must have the marriage solemnized (i.e., have a ceremony) within 60 days of filing the application (18 V.S.A. § 5131(b));
  4. once the ceremony has been performed, the person who performed it has 10 days to send the license back to the city or town where it was issued (18 V.S.A. § 5131(c)); and
  5. the clerk will then file the original (18 V.S.A. § 5131 (c)), and the couple can receive an official certificate of their marriage.

The detailed process for getting married in Vermont, whether you should enter a marriage, and what it all means are questions that are addressed in GLAD’s publication, How To Get Married In Vermont, at https://www.glad.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/how-to-get-married-vt.pdf.

Can Vermont same-sex couples get married anywhere else?

Yes. Thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, all states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Will Vermont respect my marriage? Will other states?

Yes. Vermont will respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples regardless of where the marriage was performed, just as all states will now respect the marriage of a same-sex couple married in Vermont.

Will the federal government respect my marriage?

Yes. Thanks to the recent demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States (133. S.Ct. 2675 (2013)), the federal government will recognize and respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

DOMA, a federal statute which defined marriage exclusively as the union between one man and one woman, once prevented same-sex spouses from accessing the 1000+ federal laws pertaining to marriage, including taxes, Social Security (including SSDI and SSI), immigration, bankruptcy, FMLA, federal student financial aid, Medicaid, Medicare, veteran’s benefits, and TANF. Happily, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. GLAD filed the first challenge to DOMA in 2009, Gill v. OPM (699 F.Supp.2d 374 (2010)), and the legal framework developed in that case was used in many subsequent cases, Windsor included. GLAD was also responsible for coordinating the Windsor amici briefs.

Unfortunately, one issue that has yet to be definitively resolved by Windsor and Obergefell concerns spousal benefits and self-insured health plans. While New Hampshire state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, self-insured health plans are governed by federal law. Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, only prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—sexual orientation is not explicitly included. As a result, some self-insured employers claim they can legally deny benefits to same-sex spouses.

Luckily, this issue is far from settled. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) took the position that Title VII’s prohibition against ‘sex discrimination’ encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation (see Baldwin v. Foxx, Agency No. 2012-24738-FAA-3 (July 15, 2015)).

If your employer is discriminating against you in spousal healthcare benefits on the basis of sexual orientation, contact GLAD Answers.

What happens if we need to end our marriage?

After Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex spouses everywhere should be able to dissolve their marriages on the same terms as different-sex spouses. Vermont applies its divorce statutes to same-sex couples (See generally Solomon v. Guidry, 2016 VT 108, 155 A.3d 1218 (2016)).  However, spouses should note that when Vermont courts divide marital property and award alimony/maintenance, one of the factors a judge considers is the length of the marriage (15 V.S.A. § 751(b)(1)(division of property) and §752(b)(4)(maintenance)). Nonetheless, the court does include, as marital property, all property owned by “either or both of the parties, however or whenever acquired ….” (15 V.S.A. § 751(a)). So, for spouses whose partnership pre-dates marriage equality, the length of the marriage may not accurately reflect the true length of the relationship, resulting in an unbalanced division of assets.

If you are going through divorce proceedings in Vermont and believe your division of assets may be unfairly affected by length of marriage, contact GLAD Answers.