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I entered into a civil union with another woman in Vermont in 2000. My ex and I were together until 2003, when we decided to go our separate ways. It is now 2015, and my new partner (who happens to be male) and I are expecting a baby and talking about getting married. We live in Texas. I know that there are ways to dissolve my civil union in Vermont, but I can’t get ahold of my ex (ex-wife? Ex-CUer?) to sign any of the forms. Neither do I want to, because frankly it was an abusive relationship and I still bear emotional scars. She threatened my life, encouraged my suicidal thoughts, and told me I was a loser who didn’t deserve to live. I feel I have finally found peace, but now that it has become an issue again, I don’t know. I have intense thoughts of wanting to kill her if I should ever see her. Thank goodness she lives in another state! She used to stalk me until she finally moved back to the Pacific Northwest. Is there a way to dissolve my civil union without having to directly contact my ex? —Undoing Niggling Compact In Vermont Isn’t Legally Uncomplicated
Vermont played a groundbreaking role in the fight for marriage equality in the United States. (Spoiler alert: We won the fight on June 26, 2015.) A little history…
Way, way back in 1999, before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the United States, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same “benefits and protections” as opposite-sex couples. Vermont’s highest court ordered the state legislature to come up with a solution. Instead of allowing same-sex couples to marry—a simpler fix legislatively but a more explosive one politically—in 2000, Vermont’s lawmakers created a separate-but-equal compromise, aka “civil unions.” (One of the chief ironies of the fight for marriage equality: listening to the same people who violently opposed civil unions in 2000 bitterly complain that “unreasonable” marriage-equality supporters wouldn’t settle for civil unions—a “compromise” opponents of equality got behind only after it became clear that we were going to win marriage.) Full marriage equality came to Vermont in 2009, making it the fourth US state to allow same-sex couples to wed.
So what became of your civil union after 2009, UNCIVILU? Did it become a marriage after same-sex marriage became legal in Vermont?
“Our marriage law didn’t automatically convert CUs to marriages,” said Elizabeth Kruska, an attorney in Vermont who handles family law. “And although civil unions were (and are) legal in Vermont, other states did not have to recognize them as legal unions. That’s where UNCIVILU has a problem. Her civil union is still legal and on the books here in Vermont. Now, I’m pretty sure Texas didn’t recognize civil unions—I’m not a lawyer in Texas, so I don’t know for sure, but I am a human being with functional brain cells who lives in the United States, so I think it’s probably fair to say.”
So if Texas doesn’t recognize your Vermont civil union, does that mean you’re in the clear? Sadly, no.
“There is an interesting case from Massachusetts that hit this same issue square on the head,” said Kruska. “A couple got a civil union in Vermont, the parties then separated, and one of the people got married to a different person in Massachusetts. The court in Massachusetts said that the civil union invalidated the subsequent Massachusetts marriage.”
Even if Texas doesn’t recognize your Vermont civil union—and it probably wouldn’t—Vermont would recognize your Texas marriage.
“That would create a situation where the letter writer, at least in one state, would have two legal spouses,” said Kruska. “And that’s not legal. So the smartest thing for UNCIVILU to do is to dissolve her Vermont civil union. The last thing she wants is to try to get married to the new person and for the marriage later to be found void because she had this other union out there.”
Kruska suggested that you contact legal service organizations in Vermont to find a lawyer who can help you. And if you don’t want to contact your ex, or if your ex won’t respond to you, she recommended that you file for a dissolution and let the court serve your former partner.
“UNCIVILU and her ex may both be able to participate in the hearings by telephone, since they live in other states and it would be burdensome for them to travel back to Vermont,” said Kruska, “and as an added bonus, UNCIVILU wouldn’t have to see her ex in person.” —Dan Savage
In a former life, I was a staunch Republican and voted for antigay ballot initiatives. Then, after a bad divorce 18 years ago, I moved to another state and fell in with an artistic crowd. Over the years, I became close friends with people with vastly different life experiences, and I’ve developed an entirely new attitude toward gay rights. My dilemma: When SCOTUS handed down their ruling making marriage a right for all, I congratulated all my non-straight friends on Facebook. One of those friends posted a note thanking me for “always being in [their] corner.” My asshole brother then commented that not only had I not “always” been supportive, in my previous life I campaigned against gay rights. Several non-straight friends jumped to my defense, stating that it couldn’t be true. I am ashamed of the person I was and have worked hard to be a better person. Is there any point in apologizing? —Don’t Have A Clever Acronym
Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states, also wrote the majority opinions in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which declared laws against sodomy to be unconstitutional, and Windsor v. United States (2013), which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. Kennedy will obviously go down in history as a hero to the gay-rights movement—but his record isn’t perfect.
Richard Frank Adams, a U.S. citizen, legally married Anthony Corbett Sullivan, an Australian citizen, in 1975 in Boulder, Colo. The men had been issued a marriage license by a county clerk who couldn’t find anything in state law that prevented two men from marrying. Sullivan and Adams applied for a spousal visa for Adams. Here’s the response the couple got—the entire response—on official US Citizenship and Immigration Services letterhead: “You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.”
The couple sued, and Kennedy, then a circuit court judge, heard their case—and he ruled against the “two faggots.” Sullivan and Adams had to leave the country to be together.
Exactly 18 years passed between 1985, when Kennedy signed off on the deportation of Adams, and 2003, when Kennedy wrote his first major gay-rights decision.
In Obergefell, Kennedy wrote that “new insights and societal understandings” changed the way many Americans—including a majority of Americans on the Supreme Court—see gay people. The same goes for you: New insights and understandings have changed how you think, feel, and vote about gay people. And that’s exactly what the queer-rights movement has been asking of straight people all along: to think, feel, and vote differently—and you have done all three. You can and perhaps should apologize to your gay friends for the antigay attitudes you once held—and for antigay votes you once cast—but they should immediately thank you for being the person you are now.
You can be ashamed of the person you once were but proud of the person you are now—unlike Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, four men who are as shameful now as they ever were. —Dan