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Lesbian duo uses Vermont civil union to challenge marriage-defense laws

WASHINGTON (BP)–A year after Vermont became the first state in the union to grant marriage rights to same-sex partners, a lesbian couple is seeking to have a civil union they obtained in Vermont recognized in their home state of Georgia, CNSNews.com reported.

“This is the first case of its kind where a person holding a Vermont civil union has attempted to enforce it outside of the state of Vermont,” said Mathew Staver, president and general council of Liberty Council, an evangelical legal group.

When civil unions legislation was passed in Vermont last April, lawmakers rejected appeals to make state residency a requirement for couples to qualify.

Now a Georgia couple, Susan Burns and Debra Jean Freer, is asking a state appeals court to recognize a Vermont civil union. This is also the first challenge of the constitutionality of the federal Defense Of Marriage Act, Staver told CNSNews.com.

Susan Burns and her husband, Darian, were divorced when Susan became involved in a lesbian relationship; in 1998, Darian Burns was granted custody of their three children.

According to the terms of the divorce, the court prohibited visitation by either party during any time in which they had overnight stays or cohabited with an adult other than a marriage partner or a relative within the second degree.

Soon after Susan entered into a Vermont civil union with her lesbian partner, the husband filed a motion for contempt, saying she had violated the terms of their divorce by having her children visit her in the home she shares with her lesbian partner.

So far the state trial court has ruled in favor of the husband, stating that Georgia is not required to recognize the Vermont civil union. A Georgia appeals court accepted the case for review in mid-April. Staver predicted the case will eventually go before the Georgia Supreme Court and possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The civil unions recognized in the state of Vermont are not the equivalent of marriage, and even if Vermont recognized homosexual marriages, the other 49 states are not required to recognize such relationships,” said Staver, who is representing Darian Burns on appeal.

Under the federal Defense Of Marriage Act, no state is required to recognize the relationship of another state in which same sex unions are sanctioned.

Since the civil union law went into effect last July, Vermont has issued more than 1,800 civil unions, less than 500 of which went to state residents.
Morahan is a senior staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Lawrence Morahan