On 1997-JUL-22, two lesbian couples and one gay couple brought a
lawsuit in order to obtain
marriage licenses and to have their subsequent marriages recognized by the state.
On 1999-DEC-20. the Vermont Supreme Court decided that the current law in
that state violated the state constitution. It discriminated unfairly against
The court ordered the
State legislature to correct the problem with appropriate legislation:
that would allow gays and lesbians to marry; i.e. expand the right to marry to
include couples of all sexual orientations. Currently, marriage is a special
right in Vermont extended only to heterosexuals. OR
that would set up a parallel "domestic
partnership" status to give gay and lesbian couples the right to
register their relationship and receive the same state rights as heterosexual
The House Judiciary Committee held public meetings and drafted
bill H. 847 which was approved by a vote of 10 to 1. The bill was passed
by the House on MAR-17. The Senate gave final approval to their slightly
different version of the bill on
APR-19. By 79 to 68, the House voted on 2000-APR-25 to accept the Senate version. The governor
signed the bill into law on 2000-APR-26.
Gays and Lesbians have been able to
obtain their civil union certificates since 2000-JUL-1. They might experience
certain difficulties. Some state employees had announced that they will not
issue licenses. Justices of the peace and clergy are under no obligation
to conduct civil union ceremonies; many probably will not.
Vermont was a logical choice for this same-sex lawsuit:
It has a long libertarian tradition. Its citizens are very independently minded.
it was the first state to abolish slavery (in 1777).
It is one of 11 U.S. states that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual
Its legislature considered and defeated an anti-gay marriage bill in 1998 (H-182).
Its marriage law does not specifically state that marriage is limited to one man and one
woman. However, it does contain references to "bride," "groom",
"husband" and "wife."
The state does not have a mechanism by which the voters can easily overturn the decision
of the courts via a statewide referendum. An amendment to the state constitution would be
required; that could not happen until the year 2002.
The state constitution states: "That government is, or ought to be, instituted
for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or
community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family,
or set of persons, who are a part only of that community..." (Vt. Const., Ch. I,
Art. 7). The present practice in Vermont is to issue marriage licenses only to a "single...set
of persons," namely heterosexuals.
On the other hand, the state has a law (title 13, chapter 5, statute 205) still on the
books which says that "Persons between whom marriages are prohibited by the laws
of this state who...commit fornication with each other shall be imprisoned not more than 5
years or fined not more than $1000.00 or both."
The Burlington Free Press reported the results of a Mason Dixon Poll
of 635 regular voters, taken in 1996-SEP. 54% said that the state should not recognize
same-sex marriages; 35% were in favor of legal marriages for gays and lesbians; 11% were
undecided. 1 The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reported
on two 1999 polls: a "public radio survey found 48% against it. A second poll
found 53% against." 2