Nation's first civil union ending
By DANIEL BARLOW Southern Vermont Bureau | December 15,2005
FILE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Carolyn Conrad (right) and Kathleen Peterson sign their civil union license in 2000. They were the nation’s first couple to enter a civil union.
BRATTLEBORO — The first same-sex couple in the United States to receive many of the legal rights of marriage are in the process of dissolving their historic civil union in Vermont.
Carolyn Conrad asked a Brattleboro court in October to end her civil union with Kathleen Peterson after five years and that their home and property be split up. The two women had been in a relationship for about 10 years, according to court documents.
Conrad and her attorney, Angela Prodan of Brattleboro, would not comment on the request to dissolve the union. Peterson, who is representing herself in the proceedings, declined to comment on why the relationship ended.
"All I want to say is that the civil union was a big source of pride for me and now it's not," Peterson said Wednesday night.
Conrad, 35, and Peterson, 46, were legally united just moments after Vermont's landmark civil union law went into effect at midnight on July 1, 2000. They were the first same-sex couple in the country to receive benefits similar to those of married couples.
The two women — who met on a hiking trip several years earlier — received the first civil union license in Vermont by Brattleboro Town Clerk Annette Cappy during a ceremony at a small park in front of the town offices.
"We didn't plan on being the first," Conrad told a Reuters reporter at the time. "But we wanted to do it as soon as possible, and (the town clerk) was kind enough to agree."
The breakup is a milestone in the movement to grant gay and lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual marriage. But people should not be surprised that same-sex couples experience similar relationship problems as traditional couples, said Bari Shamus of Brattleboro, one of the founding members of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force.
"There's no proof that our relationships are any better than heterosexual relationships," Shamas said. "We all experience similar issues in relationships."
Up-to-date information on the number of civil unions that have been dissolved in Vermont was not available Wednesday. But from July 1, 2000, through the end of 2004, according to the Vermont Office of Vital Records, 7,549 couples have filed for civil unions in Vermont and there have been 78 dissolutions.
A large majority of same-sex couple seeking civil unions come to Vermont just for that purpose. Only 15 percent of the civil unions, 1,137, were couples who were Vermont residents.
A little more than two-thirds of the same-sex couples who filed for civil unions were women.
Shamas said weathering difficult times may be more difficult for a same-sex couple because there is less of a community support system than for straight couples.
Brattleboro Family Court Judge Karen Carroll granted a relief-from-abuse order against Peterson Wednesday after Conrad filed for an emergency order against her partner on Dec. 7, according to court documents.
Peterson is barred from contacting Conrad and must remain more than 100 feet from her home, workplace and vehicle, according to the order. The court sent a copy of the order to the Vermont State Police on Wednesday and a follow-up hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2006.
Conrad stated that she feared physical harm from Peterson after she allegedly punched a hole in the wall during an argument in late August, and threatened to harm a female friend of Peterson's in early December, according to an affidavit filed at the court.
"At this point, I believe her behavior is escalating and I am fearful for my safety," Conrad wrote in her court statement.
Peterson would not comment on the allegations.
Under Vermont's civil union law, same sex couples receive such marital benefits as the right to make medical decisions for each other and the ability to file joint tax returns.
Since the historic bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Howard Dean, Massachusetts has legalized same-sex marriage and Connecticut and New Jersey have begun allowing civil unions.
Meanwhile, more than 30 states have passed laws in recent years prohibiting the extension of marital rights to gay and lesbian couples.
Contact Daniel Barlow at email@example.com.