More thoughts on VT Gay marriage decision

Hi there,

Since last week I have been thinking about the legal implications of the gay marriage decision in Vermont and found that it raises more questions than I had initially considered.  These relate specifically to the impact of marriage on a state which allowed civil unions.  This raises the issue of will the civil union be deemed a marriage thus increasing the length of the marriage and having impact upon divorce on all sorts of issues from custody thru finances?  There also may be issues because if the state now treats civil unions as marriages then if one party to the civil union marries someone else without dissolving the civil union, is that bigamy?

Clearly this will be very complex and interesting as it unfolds.




  1. It is interesting what the state will do with existing civil unions and whether that could have an impact on later divorce proceedings. The proposed NH gay marriage legislation(HB 0436) allows civil unioned couples to choose to convert their civil union into a marriage, but it is vague about whether the marriage date will be retroactive to the date of the civil union or on the day couple is issued the marriage license/ conversion.

  2. I am civilly united in Vermont to a partner that I am no longer with. She now lives in AZ, and I in MA. I want to get married to my new female partner in MA. Can I? Do I have to file for divorce in MA? Anyone know?

  3. AM, thanks for your comment. I’ve asked Robin Lynch Nardone, a partner here at the firm to weigh in. Her response is below:
    While there is no clear cut law in Massachusetts prohibiting someone in a civil union from legally entering into a marriage in Massachusetts (the bigamy law as written specifically refers to having a husband or wife), you should err on the side of caution and therefore legally terminate the civil union with your first partner before marrying another person.
    Under the law of Vermont, parties to a civil union “shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under the law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law, or any other course of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage.” 15 V.S.A. section 1204(a). In Vermont, annulment, separation, divorce, child custody and support, property division and maintenance apply to parties to a civil union. 15 V.S.A. sec 1024 (d). Vermont now allows same sex marriage, and under Vermont law, if you intend to marry someone other than the person with whom you are already in a civil union, the civil union must be terminated first. Massachusetts has recognized Vermont civil unions as valid and Courts in Massachusetts have terminated Vermont civil unions. In the first case in Massachusetts dissolving a civil union, the Judge found that the parties to a civil union “should be afforded all of the responsibilities and rights that flow from a civil union, including a legal remedy for dissolution of [the] legal relationship.”
    You cannot marry in Massachusetts if you are already married. It should follow that you cannot enter into a marriage if you are a party to a civil union. While you might be able to get a license and proceed with a marriage ceremony, the result would be that you would be in two legally recognized relationships, each with its own set of rights and responsibilities, with two different people. Also, you could potentially impair the validity of your marriage by entering into it knowing you have a legal commitment, akin to a marriage, to a third party.
    Just a reminder that:
    This Blog/Web Site and email response is made available by Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine and Burns & Levinson LLP for educational purposes only – i.e. to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice in relation to any situation you or anyone else may have. There is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher, Attorney Nancy R. Van Tine or Burns & Levinson LLP. The information on this Blog/Web Site and email response should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state engaged by you for such purpose.

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