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ACT NO. 91

(H.847)

Civil Unions

The purpose of the act is “to respond to the constitutional violation found by the Vermont Supreme Court in Baker v. State, and to provide eligible same-sex couples the opportunity to ‘obtain the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples’ as required by Chapter I, Article 7th of the Vermont Constitution.”

The act also provides eligible blood-relatives and relatives related by adoption the opportunity to establish a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship so they may receive certain benefits and protections and be subject to certain responsibilities that are granted to spouses.

Civil union status is available to two persons of the same sex who are not related to one another. Parties to the civil union must be at least 18 years old and competent to enter a contract. To enter a civil union, a person may not already be a party to another civil union or a marriage.

Parties to a civil union will have all of the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.

The family court will have jurisdiction over all proceedings relating to the dissolution of civil unions. The dissolution of civil unions will follow the same procedures, and be subject to the same substantive rights and obligations that are involved in the dissolution of marriage, including any residency requirements.

To establish a civil union, a resident couple may apply for a civil union license at a town clerk’s office where either party resides. If the couple meets the requirements for establishing a civil union, the clerk will issue the couple a civil union license. Within 60 days of issuance of the license, a couple must have the civil union certified by an authorized person or the license shall become void. Persons authorized to certify a civil union include judges, justices of the peace and clergy.

Nonresidents may obtain a civil union license from any town clerk in the state rather than having to obtain the license from a town clerk in the county in which the civil union is going to be certified.

Town clerks will provide persons who apply for a civil union license with information prepared by the secretary of state that advises such persons of the benefits, protections and responsibilities of a civil union, and that Vermont residency may be required for dissolution of a civil union in Vermont.

Insurers must make available dependent coverage to parties to a civil union that is equivalent to that provided to married persons. An individual or group health insurance policy which provides coverage for a spouse or family member of the insured shall also provide the equivalent coverage for a party to a civil union.

Employers are not required to provide coverage to parties to a civil union. Insurers will be required to offer equivalent coverage, but the employer then decides whether to purchase the group health insurance for its employees and which employees are eligible for the insurance.

For the purpose of state income taxes, parties to a civil union will be taxed in the same manner as married persons. However, Vermont estate taxes are treated differently because the state’s estate taxes are not piggybacked on the federal estate taxes.

“Marriage” is defined as the legally recognized union of one man and one woman in both the marriage chapter and the civil union chapter in the domestic relations title.

Two persons who are blood-relatives or relatives related by adoption and prohibited from establishing a civil union or marriage with one another may establish a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship. Persons must be at least 18 years old and competent to enter a contract. They may not be a party to another reciprocal beneficiaries relationship, a civil union or a marriage. Each person must consent to the relationship without force, fraud or duress.

Two persons who meet the criteria may establish a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship by presenting a signed, notarized declaration of a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship to the Commissioner of Health, and paying a filing fee of $10.00.

Reciprocal beneficiaries may receive the benefits and protections, and be subject to the responsibilities that are granted to spouses in the following specific areas: (1) Hospital visitation and medical decision-making; (2) Decision-making relating to anatomical gifts; (3) Decision-making relating to disposition of remains; (4) Durable power of attorney for health care and terminal care documents; (5) Patient’s bill of rights; (6) Nursing home patient’s bill of rights; and (7) Abuse prevention.

Either party to a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship may terminate the relationship by filing a signed, notarized declaration with the commissioner. Within 60 days of the filing of the declaration and payment of the fee by a party to a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship, the commissioner shall file the declaration and issue a certificate of termination of a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship to each party of the former relationship.

If a party to a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship enters into a valid civil union or a marriage, the reciprocal beneficiaries relationship shall terminate, and the parties shall no longer be entitled to the benefits, protections and responsibilities of the reciprocal beneficiaries relationship.

A Civil Union Review Commission is established for two years. The commission will be comprised of 11 members, consisting of two members of the House designated by the Speaker of the House, who shall be of different political party affiliations; two members of the Senate designated by the Senate Committee on Committees, who shall be of different political party affiliations; four members appointed by the Governor representing the public, one of whom shall be an attorney familiar with Vermont family law; one member appointed by the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court; the chair of the Human Rights Commission or his or her designee; and the Attorney General or his or her designee.

The commission will prepare and implement a plan to inform members of the public, state agencies, and private and public sector businesses and organizations about the act, as well as collect information about the implementation, operation, and effect of the act, and report to the general assembly and the governor with its findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Effective Date: The findings, purpose and the commission sections of the act take effect upon passage. The insurance sections of the act take effect January 1, 2001. The tax sections of the act take effect January 1, 2001. The rest of the act takes effect July 1, 2000.