Sorrell says MA gay marriages won’t be recognized in Vermont

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(Host) Attorney General William Sorrell says that same-sex marriages in Massachusetts would probably not be recognized in Vermont. Sorrell’s position puts him at odds with attorneys general in New York and Rhode Island, who say their states will honor the Massachusetts marriages.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Massachusetts on Monday became the first state to grant marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. But even though Vermont law allows couples to join in civil unions, Attorney General William Sorrell says a Massachusetts same-sex marriage would most likely not be recognized here.

Sorrell says there are two places in Vermont law that define marriage as between a man and a woman.

(Sorrell) “And clearly there is no constitutional right to gay marriage in Vermont because our state Supreme Court has said that, and the Legislature has not chosen to afford the right by statute for gay couples in Vermont to be married. So I think the better argument is that a marriage contracted in another state or country that allows gay marriage by two Vermonters who came back to Vermont, that those marriages won’t be recognized in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Sorrell’s view is different from New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who believes Massachusetts gay marriages will be honored in his state. And Rhode Island attorney general Patrick Lynch released a statement Monday afternoon that says his view of the law suggests that Rhode Island would also recognize a Massachusetts same sex marriage.

Middlebury attorney Beth Robinson argued the Vermont case that led to the state’s civil union law. She disagrees with Attorney General Sorrell’s interpretation.

(Robinson) “Vermont law is very, very clear throughout our history with respect to a wide variety of restrictions on marriage, that even if a marriage isn’t something you could actually enter into in Vermont, if it’s valid where celebrated it’s going to be recognized and respected here in Vermont. And any suggestion to the contrary is just a departure from our existing law.”

(Dillon) The courts here will ultimately decide the question. And Sorrell says it’s possible that a court could recognize a Massachusetts gay marriage as a civil union under Vermont law.

(Sorrell) “That’s the question, I think. Would it automatically be deemed that they are the parties to a civil union? I think that makes some sense because clearly we have said that under Vermont law that a gay couple is entitled to the same benefits and protections as are enjoyed by the parties to a more traditional marriage. I think it least likely that they would be deemed to not have had any special relationship whatsoever.”

(Dillon) Sorrell says a lot will depend on the facts of the case that eventually comes before the court.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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