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From CU to "I Do": Now What? 

Local Matters

Last week the question was: Will Vermont be the first state to legalize same-sex marriages without a court order?

This week the follow-ups are numerous: Do we “upgrade” to marriage? Should we keep our civil union? When can we get married? By whom? Do we have to get rid of our civil union before we marry?

With more choices, thousands of couples joined in civil unions since 2000 — 1500 Vermont couples and 8700 couples from around the U.S. — now have more decisions to make.

Not surprisingly, the advocacy group behind the legislation — Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force — recently posted a lengthy “FAQ” to its website to help couples understand the ramifications of the new law.

For starters, same-sex couples won’t be able to obtain a marriage license until September 1. After that, civil unions will no longer be issued. But you can still get a civil union between now and then.

In fact, some couples may want to keep their civil union and get married, notes Freedom to Marry’s Beth Robinson.

“In the short run, it may be helpful to have both a CU and a marriage, because there are some states that will recognize the marriage but not CU,” says Robinson, no doubt thinking of New York. “But there may be some where you have a better chance of getting your CU recognized for some purposes than your marriage.” That’s a not-so-veiled reference to California post-Prop 8, unless the court deems Prop 8 unconstitutional.

It’s completely legit to have both, Robinson says, granted the love contracts are between the same two people. It’s not as if Vermont legalized same-sex polygamy.

Once the legal questions are answered, the next ones are sure to test traditional wedding etiquette: Two tuxedos? Two gowns? Neither? Should dad walk the “bride” down the aisle, regardless of whether that person is male or female? Does one family pay for the wedding — or do they split it? Rehearsal dinner? Will those well-worn wedding vows still work under the circumstances?

In short, don’t sweat it. As Anna Post, author and spokesperson for the Burlington-based Emily Post Institute, puts it: “Hetero couples have been breaking with tradition for years. It’s become a very equal-opportunity ceremony.”

Post says the basics of wedding etiquette are the same regardless of gender: Be good hosts, thank people at and after the ceremony, and don’t invite people to pre-wedding ceremonies if you’re not going to invite them to the main event.

Like their hetero counterparts, same-sex couples can choose to keep or do away with more formal aspects of the ceremony, such as who gets to walk whom down the aisle, and where people sit during the ceremony — behind the “groom” on the right side of the venue or behind the “bride” on the left.

One question stumped Post though: What if you attended a couple’s CU, brought a gift and now the same couple is getting married. Do you bring another gfit?

There’s no easy answer to that one, says Post, proving that etiquette is an evolving set of norms.

“As a guest, a gift is a wonderful gesture and is never wrong,” says Post. “But some people may feel the couple has already committed to each other in a ceremony and therefore may not bring a gift. So for couples I would say be cautious with your expectations.”

When in doubt, Post says, “You can always ask the couple. They may say not to bring a gift, or they may say they’re registered at Bloomingdale’s.”

******

If I am already joined in civil union, what happens to my civil union on September 1?

Vermont’s new law will not affect existing civil unions, or civil unions celebrated before September 1. You are in a civil union until you dissolve it by court order. To marry, you have to go through the steps any other couple must take.

Does Vermont have a residency requirement for marriage?

Vermont does not have a residency requirement for marriage. It does, however, have a residency requirement for divorce. Non-residents who legally marry in Vermont and then later split up may find it difficult to get a divorce, depending on where you live. Non-residents should keep this in mind when deciding whether to marry in Vermont.

Where do we get a marriage license and how much does it cost?

Licenses are issued by Vermont town clerks and cost $45.

Who can marry us? Do we need witnesses?

A Supreme Court justice, a superior court judge, a district judge, a judge of probate, an assistant judge, a justice of the peace or an ordained or licensed member of the clergy residing in Vermont can perform your wedding ceremony. Clergy from neighboring states, or individuals, can be granted temporary status to preside over ceremonies.

If my partner and I get legally married, will we be entitled to Social Security Survivor Benefits and other federal law protections?

You will be closer to getting those protections, but still won’t be able to get them. Federal law currently does not recognize, for federal law purposes, otherwise valid marriages between same-sex partners. This restriction is the subject of a constitutional challenge in a pending court case, and may be the target of repeal efforts in Congress. For now, the federal government is not recognizing valid marriages between same-sex partners. Social Security is a federal law program.

To view the full FAQ, click here.

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More by Shay Totten

About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Bio:
Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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