Legal Studies Department at UMass Amherst Hosts Talk by Lawyer in Vermont Same-Sex Couple Case

AMHERST, Mass. - Mary Bonauto, one of the lawyers who tried the recent landmark same-sex couple benefit case before the Vermont Supreme Court, will speak at the University of Massachusetts Wed., April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Thompson 102. The event, sponsored by the UMass legal studies department, is free and open to the public.

Bonauto, civil rights director for the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, will give a talk titled "Marriage? Civil Union? Where is Vermont Leading the Country?" She was one of three lawyers who argued the case known as Baker vs. Vermont. In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits and protections given to heterosexual married couples, but left it up to the Legislature to craft a remedy. The public debate in Vermont is ongoing, with the state Legislature expected to vote on a so-called civil union proposal later this month.

The case made national headlines and has drawn the attention of both supporters of same-sex benefits and opponents who argue same-sex couples should not have the same legal standing as heterosexual married couples. The issue has also been in the news both nationally and locally because some communities, including Northampton and Amherst, have debated extending employment benefits to same-sex partners of municipal workers.

In addition, Congress recently passed the Defense of Marriage Act that attempts to relieve individual states of the constitutional obligation to honor same-sex marriages approved by other states. Several states themselves are also debating the issue of whether to recognize same-sex marriages allowed in other states, says Stephen Arons, professor of legal studies.

A question-and-answer period and discussion will follow Bonauto''s talk.