In their letter, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham) and House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) urged their counterparts in New Jersey to follow Vermont's lead and legalize same-sex marriage.
"In 2009, we passed a law ensuring that same-sex couples could legally marry in Vermont — by an overwhelming margin of at least two-thirds in each chamber," the pair wrote. "After nine years of living with our civil union law, the Vermont legislature understood that the passage of time would never bridge the significant gap between civil unions and equality."
Opponents in New Jersey, like those in Vermont, are pressing for a statewide referendum to put in place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage rather than simply debate the matter in the Legislature.
Here is the letter in its entirety as it was sent to New Jersey's legislators:
As you consider legislation that would replace your civil union law with equality, we'd like to tell you about Vermont's civil union experience - and how you may find it relevant to your vote in New Jersey.
In 2000, Vermont became the first U.S. state to adopt a law establishing civil unions. Our state originated both the concept and the name "civil union." At the time, we intended to put same-sex couples on equal footing in Vermont. But throughout the nine years our civil union law was in effect, it never achieved that goal. Even in the ninth year of the law, many civil union couples in Vermont faced some of the painful situations of inequality that civil union couples in New Jersey have faced.
We discovered that our civil union law harmed the children of same-sex couples. We learned, as New Jersey has learned, that labeling same-sex families as inferior stigmatized their children. Some children, for instance, were reminded of the difference by their peers at school. That's damaging to any child.
We also recognized that preventing same-sex couples from marrying was an intrusion into religious practice. Clergy of many faiths want to marry same-sex couples as their respective faiths allow. A marriage equality law gives clergy the option to marry the couples they wish to marry, and the option not to marry anyone they do not wish to marry.
Without a marriage equality law, the government is taking away the right of religions and clergy to decide for themselves whom they want to marry. That made us uncomfortable in a country that respects all faiths and honors the separation between church and state.
In 2009, we passed a law ensuring that same-sex couples could legally marry in Vermont — by an overwhelming margin of at least two-thirds in each chamber. After nine years of living with our civil union law, the Vermont legislature understood that the passage of time would never bridge the significant gap between civil unions and equality.
Like Vermont, New Jersey has long been a national leader in civil rights. We hope you join Vermont, and the majority of states in the northeastern U.S., by enacting marriage equality.
Please don't hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions.
Senator Peter Shumlin Speaker Shap Smith
Senate President Pro Tempore, Vermont Senate Speaker of the Vermont House