[JURIST] The Vermont State Legislature [official website] on Monday began a series of week-long hearings on a bill [S.0115 text, PDF] that would allow same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] in the state. The bill, "An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage," sponsored by Vermont State Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and State Senators John Campbell and Claire Ayer [official profiles], changes the definition of marriage to "the legally recognized union of two people." Supporters and those opposed to the bill have come to the State House in Montpelier to to voice their opinions [NECN report]. The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing on S.0115 [materials] on Wednesday.
Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples when then-Governor Howard Dean signed H.B.847 [text] into law in April 2000. If S.0115 were to become law in Vermont, that state would be the fourth to legalize same-sex marriage. In October, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the Connecticut Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry. In May, the California Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that California marriage statutes that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California constitution. However, in November, Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive] was passed [JURIST report], amending the California constitution to define marriage as between a man and putting the status of same-sex marriages in California in doubt. In 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health [opinion; JURIST report] that barring an individual from marriage based on the spouse's gender violated the Massachusetts Constitution.