Economist at UMass Amherst Says Vt. Civil Union Law Retains Separate-but-Equal Approach for Gay Couples

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts labor economist M.V. Lee Badgett says Vermont''s first-in-the-nation "civil unions" legislation is a major step forward for same-sex couples seeking the benefits of marriage, but notes the legal framework it creates isn''t the same as marriage.

Vermont lawmakers approved the bill this week and have sent it to Gov. Howard Dean, who says he will sign it into law.

"Vermont''s creation of ''civil unions'' addresses many of the economic disadvantages faced by same-sex couples," Badgett says. "Those couples and their children will now have equal access to the state-provided legal and economic framework supporting Vermont''s families."

But while same-sex couples in civil unions will be closer to parity with married couples than they are in any other state, this separate-but-equal approach leaves the status of same-sex couples murky with respect to recognition by employers, insurance companies, and other states, Badgett says. "Furthermore, federal law excludes same-sex couples from access to the immigration, taxation, and social security benefits given to married couples," she says.

Badgett is an assistant professor of economics at UMass who focuses her research on race, gender, and sexual orientation in the labor market. She also is president of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

NOTE: Badgett can be reached at 413/545-0159 or lbadgett@econs.umass.edu.