BRATTLEBORO, VT., July 1 -- The first same-sex couple was united just after midnight today as Vermont's civil union law took effect. A second followed, and five more were scheduled for later today in Brattleboro, where Town Clerk Annette Cappy opened her office late Friday to issue the first licenses at the stroke of midnight.
"This is our special couple," Cappy said as she handed a Brattleboro couple their license at Town Hall before their ceremony at a nearby fountain, according to the Rutland Herald.
Carolyn Conrad, 29, associate dean of students at Marlboro College and Kathleen Peterson, 41, a ski-lift electrician, met five years ago while rock climbing in New Hampshire. They said their vows three years after their own commitment ceremony, according to the Herald. A justice of the peace officiated at today's ceremony.
Cappy told the Herald the unusual late-night opening of her office was only fair. "They want to do it as soon as they can," she said.
Following the women were Tom Lang and Alex Westerhoff of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. For them it was symbolic, as the union has no legal standing outside Vermont. But Lang told Boston television station WCVB that they wanted to do it "to finally be able to secure civil rights for future generations as well as ourselves, and basically to take advantage of the first state in the union to allow this sort of thing for us."
The landmark law had its genesis in a state Supreme Court ruling last December that homosexual couples were unconstitutionally being denied the legal benefits extended to heterosexual couples, but left it to the legislature to determine how to carry it out. The controversial legislation passed in March, conferring benefits that include survivor benefits and the right to make medical decisions for an ailing partner.
It has not been universally welcomed. Along with well-wishers at the first ceremonies were protesters, including a church youth group. Another protester, Buzzy Buswell of West Dover, held up a sign that read, "Tolerance Yes, Acceptance No," and shouted, "It's a sad day in Vermont," as the women left the hall. The law also has threatened the political careers of legislators who voted for it and of Gov. Howard Dean, who signed it into law.
Several town clerks who have moral objections to the law also have resigned rather than issue the civil-union licenses.
"I'm sorry they feel that way," Cappy told the Herald.
Expected to receive their licenses later today were two more Brattleboro couples and three from out of state, including one couple driving all day from North Carolina.