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Eileen Raymond, Canton NY
July 12, 2001
On July 8, 2000, family and friends gathered in a small country church to celebrate a wedding. The happy couple entered the church and walked up the aisle to stand before the ministers. There they each promised to be loving partners for all of their lives, just as countless numbers of couples had done before them. Then the minister uttered this pronouncement: "Donna and Eileen, you have spoken a covenant of love and trust to each other, and symbolized your commitment by the exchanging of rings. You have created for yourselves a marriage, and by the power vested in me by the State of Vermont and the Unitarian Universalist Association, I am delighted to declare that your lives are now joined in civil and holy union."
A simple act, and yet one that stands as a milestone, for the couple that day was my partner and I, two women. Vermont had recently become the first, and only, state to provide official recognition of our commitment to each other. They pledged to us all the rights and responsibilities given to all other couples seeking to solemnize their unions. While not marriage, Vermont's civil union statute assures gay and lesbian couples that the state will honor their relationships in the same way that it recognizes those of heterosexual couples. Through civil unions, the state of Vermont recognizes the responsibilities partners have to each other, and supports their intention to care for each other until parted by death.
But only in Vermont...
Since Donna and I are residents of New York, our civil union certificate gives us no such support here at home in Canton. Should one of us become ill and be unable to make her own decisions about medical care, the other would not automatically be allowed to make those critical decisions. Retirement and estate laws treat us as legal strangers, making retirement planning very tricky. Social Security spousal benefits are unavailable to us as we plan for our future. We have done what we can to make up for this lack of legal support of our union by creating health care proxies and durable powers of attorney for health care, by holding our property in common, and by naming each other as reciprocal beneficiaries in our wills.
But the uneasiness remains...
When bad things happen, will we be allowed to care for each other?
Our question for the state that we call home, where we work and own property, is what will it take for our state to support us as we seek to care for each other? How long must we struggle as legal strangers to fulfill our promises to each other, promises made first in 1993, and reaffirmed a year ago in our service of holy and civil union in Derby Line, Vermont? How long must we wait for our state to support the recognition of all loving, committed relationships, regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple?
All we ask is that you and our state help us take care of each other.
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