In Vermont, gay-rights proponents are urging the state legislature to go beyond offering a package of domestic partnership benefits and to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On a practical level, explains Beth Robinson, counsel to the plaintiffs in the supreme court case, "calling it marriage means the difference between these rights being portable or not, at least to other states that ultimately will recognize them, as well as eventual access to federal benefits like immigration if DOMA is found to be unconstitutional, as we believe it is." On a symbolic level, "It's a question of whether we live in a community that embraces same-sex couples and people."
The case in Vermont has also opened up debate over the question of whether the government has any business rewarding straights or gays for entering into coupledom. "I'm proud to be in a state where I am hardly the only one saying, 'Let's abolish civil marriage laws altogether,' " notes activist David Edleson, a dean at Middlebury College who lives in Lincoln, Vermont, with his partner of 18 years. "It's hardly the overwhelming opinion, but the question of equality over including same-sex couples in marriage has definitely got people thinking about extending equality to singles, nonsexual households, and other families that aren't structured around a central romance. I think we'll see further discussion of these sorts of situations."
photo: Juliana Thomas
Rep. Jerrold Nadler says the Permanent Partners Act tries to deal with a problem that works tremendous cruelty on people.
In the meantime, couples like Katherine and Marisa are clinging to any straw they can. "Will the Nadler bill get passed?" asks Katherine Narkunas with a sigh. "All I know is that it would mean the world to my girlfriend and me."