February 8, 2002
VERMONT CIVIL UNION LAW - TOWN CLERK PENALTIES
By: Susan Price-Livingston, Associate Attorney
You asked whether Vermont's civil union law has a civil or criminal penalty for town clerks who refuse to issue civil union licenses.
Under Act 91, Vermont's civil union law, town and county clerks must issue civil union licenses to all applicants who submit completed applications and required documentation and are otherwise qualified for the license (18 Vt. Stat. Ann. § 5161). The act includes a provision authorizing clerks to delegate this duty to assistants (Id. ).
Act 91 does not specify a penalty for clerks who refuse to issue civil union licenses. As under Vermont's marriage statutes, clerks are subject to fines of between $ 20 and $ 50 if they knowingly issue a license without first requiring the applicant to complete required application procedures (§ 5160). And issuing a civil union license without examining the applicants' affidavits or other proof of eligibility subjects them to a fine of up to $ 100 (§ 5162).
Vermont's Supreme Court recently rejected a claim that Act 91 unconstitutionally infringes on clerks' constitutional rights to free exercise of religion. The justices reasoned that the statutory provision authorizing clerks to delegate civil licensing duties to assistants adequately accommodated their religious beliefs (Brady v. Dean, -A2d-, 2001 WL 1673775 (December 26, 2001)).