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Queer Sailing to Canada

Local Matters


Published June 25, 2003 at 3:06 p.m.

Calling it part of the "evolution of society," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his cabinet approved a sweeping new policy last week that allows gay couples to marry. The law took effect right away in Ontario, Canada's most populous province. Almost immediately, dozens of gay couples lined up to apply for marriage licenses, according to the Associated Press.

What will it mean for Vermonters now that our gay-friendly neighbors to the north have opted not only to follow this state's lead, but go it one better? "There's not a particularly definitive answer," says Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Bill Dalton. Legally speaking, he envisions a handful of issues coming down the pike. The most significant, he predicts, is whether Congress or U.S. courts will force a change in immigration laws to recognize transnational gay marriages just as they recognize foreign heterosexual marriages.

In the past, gay couples have tried to apply for green cards for their foreign-born partners after tying the knot in Belgium or the Netherlands, the only other countries that allow same-sex pairs to get hitched. Needless to say, those efforts to sidestep U.S. immigration policy didn't cut it with the INS, and federal case law remains pretty straight and narrow on the issue. Moreover, with a U.S. attorney general who is so puritanical he spent $8000 to hide the hooters on the Spirit of Justice statue in Washington, D.C., gay-rights activists aren't predicting a sea change in policy anytime soon.

Though Vermont's civil-union law does not supersede federal law, it does require Vermont employers to treat partners of civil unions the same as they would other married couples -- regardless of where those marriages take place. For example, says Dalton, if a Vermont employer offers insurance to the Canadian spouse of an American employee, presumably that employer also will be legally obligated to offer those same benefits to a gay couple that weds in Canada.

Likewise, since Vermont's family courts can dissolve civil unions joined in Vermont, those courts will also have to grant divorces to gay couples who married in Canada. "Of course, these are open questions when it comes to cross-state or cross-country jurisdictional issues," Dalton admits. "I think various jurisdictions will need to do some tweaking to make sure people are being treated evenhandedly."

Legal snafus notwithstanding, Vermont may also experience a slight dip in the number of out-of-state tourists who vacation here. Thus far, no one has conducted a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of Vermont's civil-union law. However, since it took effect on July 1, 2000, the state has issued 5671 civil-union licenses. Of those, only 840 went to Vermonters. And since Canada's marriage law has no residency requirement, Vermont may no longer be the destination of choice for those who are out and in love.

Remember the old bumper sticker? "It'll be a great day when schools have all the money they need and the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." Three decades after that slogan first hit the streets, no one is holding his or her breath waiting for Donald Rumsfeld to whip up a batch of cupcakes to finance "Operation Naked Aggression," or whatever the administration plans to call its next act of deficit spending.

Folks at the Peace and Justice Center and the Crombie Street Association in Burlington aren't waiting around, either, for a shift in federal budget priorities. Putting a new twist on the old message, they've decided to hold a yard sale and block party on Saturday, June 28, to raise money for Barnes and Wheeler elementary schools in Burlington. From 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. they'll be offering various community-building activities like music, games, food, a scavenger hunt and, of course, a major yard sale -- all designed to draw attention to how federal tax dollars are being diverted from education to more imperialistic pursuits overseas. The money raised by the event -- their goal is at least $1000 -- will help pay for a ropes course for fifth-graders at both schools and help teachers buy supplies that aren't covered in school budgets.

How big an impact does federal spending have on local school budgets? About one dollar in every four spent by Vermont comes from the federal government. But while next year's federal military budget is about $396 billion, education spending comes to only $63 billion. Put another way, the Pentagon budget will be two-and-a-half times the expenditure for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, food and nutrition, and jobs-training programs combined. This according to Greg Speeter at the National Priorities Project in Washington, D.C.

Viewed another way, in 2004 Vermont taxpayers will spend $27.6 million on nuclear weapons. For that amount of green, Vermont could hire 583 elementary school teachers instead. Or how about the $14 million Vermonters will spend on ballistic missile defense next year? That would pay for nearly 1700 children to participate in Head Start. No matter how you slice it, that's a lot of cookie dough.