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Civil Unions & Same-sex marriage in Vermont

Overview; Why Vermont?

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Overview of the civil union legislation:

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 same-sex couples. The court ordered the State legislature to correct the problem with appropriate legislation:

bullet 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
bullet 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 couples.

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.

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Why Vermont?

Vermont was a logical choice for this same-sex lawsuit:

bullet It has a long libertarian tradition. Its citizens are very independently minded. it was the first state to abolish slavery (in 1777).
bullet It is one of 11 U.S. states that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
bullet Its legislature considered and defeated an anti-gay marriage bill in 1998 (H-182).
bullet 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."
bullet 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.
bullet 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

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > SSM > Vermont > here

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Vermont Poll", Email to the Freedom to Marry Task Force,  at:
  2. David Snyder, "Vermont considers gay marriage," 1999-APR-5, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 200
Author: B.A. Robinson

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