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Same-sex marriage in Vermont

Legal status of same-sex unions
  1. When performed in Mexican states that have legalized same-sex marriage
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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Vermont since September 1, 2009. Vermont was the first state to introduce civil unions in July 2000, and the first state to introduce same-sex marriage by enacting a statute without being required to do so by a court decision.[1] Same-sex marriage became legal earlier as the result of court decisions, not legislation, in four states: Massachusetts,[2] California,[3] Connecticut,[4] and Iowa.[5]


  • Background 1
  • Lawsuit 2
  • Civil union legislation 3
  • Implementation 4
  • 2000 elections and aftermath 5
  • Marriage legislation 6
  • Economic impact 7
  • Public opinion 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10


Either by legislation or court decisions, Vermont was a leader among U.S. jurisdictions in protecting the rights of gays and lesbians in the 1990s. In 1990, it was one of the first states to enact hate crimes legislation that included sexual orientation.[6][7] In 1992, it added sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination statute.[8] In 1993, the Vermont Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling established second-parent adoption rights allowing someone in a same-sex relationship to adopt his or her partner's biological children.[9][10] When the legislature reformed the state's adoption statute in 1995, it made same-sex couples eligible to adopt.[11]


On July 22, 1997, three same-sex couples sued the state and the jurisdictions that had denied them marriage licenses. They lost in the trial court on December 19. That court ruling that Vermont's statutes limiting marriage to different-sex couples were constitutional because they served the public interest by promoting "the link between procreation and child rearing".[12]

The Vermont Supreme Court heard the case on appeal and on December 20, 1999, ruled in Baker v. Vermont that the Vermont Constitution entitles same-sex couples to "the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples".[13] The Court did not give the plaintiffs the relief they sought. Instead of ordering state officials to allow same-sex couples to marry, it invited the state legislature to devise a solution:[14]

Whether this ultimately takes the form of inclusion within the marriage laws themselves or a parallel "domestic partnership" system or some equivalent statutory alternative, rests with the Legislature. Whatever system is chosen, however, must conform with the constitutional imperative to afford all Vermonters the common benefit, protection, and security of the law.

The Court set no deadline, but suspended its judgement for "a reasonable period".[14]

Mary Bonauto, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, later described how advocates for same-sex marriage struggled to understand how they had won the judgment but not the right to marry: "[T]hey had this beautiful language in there about the humanity of gay people, but I couldn't believe they had done something that I thought was a political judgment. I had never heard of segregating the word marriage from its rights and protections."[15]

Civil union legislation

When the House Judiciary Committee took up the question in February, 3 of its members favored same-sex marriage while 11 backed something equivalent that was discussed as a "civil rights package". The Committee's chairman said that only the latter could pass the legislature, that only "a broad civil rights bill" was "achievable".[13] The state House of Representatives voted 76 to 69 in favor of legislation creating civil unions with the same legal rights and obligations as marriage on March 15, 2000. The legislation also defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.[16] Debate in the Senate, where the bill was modified, was restrained. The Senate also defeated two proposed constitutional amendments designed to nullify the Baker decision, one that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman and another that reserved to the legislature all authority to define the benefits of marriage.[17] The Senate passed the bill 19 to 11 on April 19[17] and the House passed it on April 25 on a 79 to 68 vote.[18] Governor Howard Dean signed the legislation into law on April 26[19] without a public ceremony.[20] Immediately after the signing, he held a press conference where he said:[21]

There is much to celebrate about this bill. Those celebrations, as the subject of this bill, will be private. They will be celebrated by couples and their families, but people making commitments to each other.... I believe this bill enriches all of us as we look with new eyes at a group of people who have been outcasts for many, many generations.

The New York Times called Vermont's civil unions "same-sex marriages in almost everything but the name".[18] Bonauto called the legislation "breathtaking". She said out-of-state couples would want to take advantage of the law, even though its impact for them would only be symbolic.[22]


The debate on civil unions was acrimonious and deeply polarizing, touching every corner of the state and spurring a prominent popular backlash that began even before the legislation was signed under the slogan Take Back Vermont.

As soon as civil union legislation was enacted, some clerks expressed reservations about participating. Gerry Longway, the Fairfield town clerk said: "I'm not here to judge what people do, but I don't want to be forced to be part of it. It's like, if I don't believe in capital punishment, they're not going to make me pull the switch."[20] As the July 1 start date approached, most seemed prepared to issue civil union licenses.[23] On June 18, opponents of the legislation placed a full-page in the Burlington Free Press that described civil unions as the work of "the insufferable hubris of the narcissistic gay lobby that would place personal pleasures before public order."[23] The first day for civil unions was a Saturday, when clerks offices are normally closed. A few opened because they had been asked to and a handful of licenses were issued and ceremonies held,[23] including one for Holly Puterbaugh and Lois Farnham, plaintiffs in Baker, at the First Congregational Church in Burlington.[24]

When the civil unions law went into effect on July 1, 2000, Vermont became the third U.S. state after Hawaii and California to offer legal status to same-sex couples, and the first to offer a civil union status encompassing the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage.[25]

2000 elections and aftermath

The November 2000 elections, with the legislature and governorship at stake, became a referendum on civil unions. Opponents of civil unions adopted "Take Back Vermont" as their slogan and covered the landscape with their signs. It had been used previously to protest a property tax and represented anger at the state government across an array of issues even as the campaign's focus was on civil unions. The campaign hoped to win control of both houses of the Vermont Assembly for the Republicans and possibly even unseat Dean who had been governor since 1991.[26] Garrison Nelson, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, called the fall campaign "a real, honest-to-goodness, social issue bonfire".[26]

Six incumbent legislators who supported civil unions lost in the September primaries, five Republicans and one Democrat.[27] One of the Republicans who lost was two-term Senator Peter Brownell, who described being lobbied by clergy on both sides and asked: "So whose religion am I obligated statutorily to abide by?"[26] The Roman Catholic Bishop of Burlington Kenneth Angell testified against the civil unions bill before a House committee and sent mailings with such headings as "How Would Jesus Vote?" and "Vote Your Informed Conscience."[26] Both sides and candidates at all levels attracted unusual amounts of out-of-state money,[28] including funds from the national political parties, and the amounts raised broke all records for political races in Vermont.[29]

An election day opinion poll by Voter News Service reported that Vermonters were evenly divided[30] and the election results were mixed. Dean won reelection and the Democrats held their majority in the state Senate, which would block any attempt to repeal of the civil unions legislation, though their margin of control was just 16 to 14.[31] In the primary and the general election combined, 16 incumbent supporters of civil unions were not returned to the legislature.[32] Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 14 years.[33] Bishop Angell viewed it as a defeat:[34][35][36]

I was very disappointed. We spent a great deal of time and effort trying to work for certain causes, and it just seems that we were not heard.... I never, ever thought in my lifetime that I would be trying to convince people that marriage is between a man and a woman. They call it civil unions here, but it's nothing more than marriage under another name.

In the first half of 2001, the Vermont House of Representatives passed several bills to undo the civil union legislation. One replaced civil unions with "reciprocal partnerships" that any two persons could form, which could include blood relatives. None had a chance of passing the Senate or winning Dean's signature.[30][37] At the same time, the Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald began printing announcements of civil unions just as they did wedding notices.[30]

The question of the legal status of same-sex relationships was attracting increasing attention in other states. On election day 2000, Nevada and Nebraska passed measures amending their constitutions to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.[38] Voters in Maine narrowly defeated a measure prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which its supporters attributed in part to the fact that their opponents "had that little extra bit of ammunition regarding Vermont."[39] In the spring of 2001, the legislatures of Rhode Island and Connecticut held hearings on civil unions legislation. In mid-April, seven couples filed a lawsuit to force Massachusetts to recognize same-sex marriages.[30]

In the first year that civil unions were available, 2,479 same-sex couples formed Vermont civil unions. Only 502 of those couples were Vermont residents. About two-thirds were women. Polls showed the public remained equally divided. Dean commented: "None of the dire predictions have come true. There was a big rhubarb, a lot of fear-mongering, and now people realize there was nothing to be afraid of."[37] Civil unions were hardly mentioned as an issue in the 2002 gubernatorial election, a three-way race won by James Douglas, a Republican who was not interested in renewing the contentious debate. The gains made by opponents of civil unions receded in the legislature in that year as well, as the Democrats grew their majority in the Senate and Republicans gave back some of their 2000 gains in the House.[40]

In June 2004, Thomas Clark Ely, the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, announced rites for priests to use in the blessing of civil unions as a three-year experiment.[41]

As of October 8, 2004, 7201 couples had entered into civil unions in Vermont.[42] That November, even as 11 states voted for amendments to their constitutions that would ban same-sex marriage, several of which banned civil unions as well, in Vermont, Democrats took back control of the state House of Representatives and an exit poll conducted for the Associated Press reported that 40% of Vermont voters supported same-sex marriage, an additional 37% backed civil unions, and 21% supported neither.[43] When same-sex marriage supporters in Massachusetts experienced no voter backlash that November, Marty Rouse, campaign director with the advocacy group MassEquality said: "I think Vermont helped to educate Massachusetts. Because of the geographical proximity of the two states, Massachusetts residents got to see that equal marriage rights for same sex couples were not as frightening as some might have thought."[43]

Marriage legislation

In July 2007, legislative leaders created a commission to consider to consider "Family Recognition and Protection". Its April 2008 report made no recommendation but detailed the differences between civil unions and marriage, including the terminology and rights and obligations associated with each status.[44]

The State Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation on March 23, 2009[45] and Governor Jim Douglas threatened to veto it.[46] On April 3, the State House passed an amended version of the bill 94–52, several votes shy of a veto-proof two-thirds majority.[45][47] On April 6, 2009, the Senate approved the amendments made by the House[45] and the governor vetoed the legislation as promised.[48] On April 7, 2009, the Senate overrode the veto by a 23–5 vote and the House overrode it 100–49.[45]

The law went into effect on September 1, 2009.[49] Vermont became the fifth state to afford legal recognition to same-sex marriages, though only three other states–Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts–did so without limitation. California as of that date only recognized same-sex marriages established between June 16 and November 5, 2008, when it was forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by voter approval of Proposition 8. Vermont was the first state to establish the legal recognition of same-sex marriage by legislation rather than as the result of a court ruling.[50]

Economic impact

A comprehensive UCLA March 2009 study concluded that extending marriage to same-sex couples would boost Vermont's economy by over $30.6 million in business activity over three years, which would in turn generate increases in state and local government sales tax and fee revenues by $3.3 million and create approximately 700 new jobs.[51]

Public opinion

A July 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 58% of Vermont voters thought same-sex marriage should be legal, while 33% thought it should be illegal and 9% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 79% of Vermont voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 55% supporting same-sex marriage, 24% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 18% favoring no legal recognition, and 3% not sure.[52]

A poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute between June 3 and June 20, 2013 found that 66% of Vermont voters supported same-sex marriage, while 13% were against and 21% had no opinion.[53]

See also


  1. ^ Goodnough, Abby (April 7, 2009). "Vermont Legislature Makes Same-Sex Marriage Legal". New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ Belluck, Pam (November 19, 2003). "Marriage by Gays Gains Big Victory in Massachusetts". New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  3. ^ Egelko, Bob (May 16, 2008). "State's top court strikes down marriage ban". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 30, 2012. 
  4. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (October 10, 2008). "Gay Marriage Is Ruled Legal in Connecticut". New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  5. ^ Davey, Monica (April 3, 2009). "Iowa Court Voids Gay Marriage Ban". New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2013. 
  6. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 66–70. 
  7. ^ Mary Bernsten, "The Contradictions of Gay Ethnicity: Forging Identity in Vermont," in David S. Meyer, et al., eds, Social Movements: Identity, Culture, and the State (Oxford University Press, 2002), 96-7, available online, accessed July 12, 2013
  8. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 71–5. 
  9. ^ Wong, Doris Sue (June 19, 1993). "Vt. court rules woman may adopt children of her lesbian partner". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  10. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 96–7. 
  11. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 97–9. 
  12. ^ "Vt. gay marriage suit dismissed". Boston Globe. December 20, 1997. 
  13. ^ a b Goldberg, Carey (February 10, 2000). "Vermont Panel Shies From Gay Marriage". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Baker v. Vermont, 744 A.2d 864, accessed August 7, 2013
  15. ^ Abraham, Yvonne (November 23, 2003). "10 Years' Work Led to Historic Win in Court". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  16. ^ Goldberg, Carey (March 17, 2000). "Vermont's House Backs Wide Rights for Gay Couples". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b Goldberg, Carey (April 19, 2000). "Vermont Moves Step Closer To Same-Sex Civil Unions". New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Goldberg, Carey (April 26, 2000). "Vermont Gives Final Approval to Same-Sex Unions". New York Times. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Governor of Vermont Signs Gay-Union Law". New York Times. April 27, 2000. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b MacQuarrie, Brian (April 28, 2000). "Some in Vt. Bristle at Civil Unions". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  21. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 242–3. 
  22. ^ Lawrence, J.M. (April 26, 2000). "Vt. House approves same-sex civil union". Boston Herald. 
  23. ^ a b c Goldberg, Carey (July 2, 2000). "In Vermont, Gay Couples Head for the Almost-Altar". New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  24. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. pp. 269–71. 
  25. ^ Goldberg, Carey (March 17, 2000). "Vermont House Passes Bill on Rights for Gay Couples". New York Times. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c d Marquard, Bryan K. (October 29, 2000). "Civil Unions Give Clergy a Key Voice in Vt. Vote". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  27. ^ Higgins, Richard (September 14, 2000). "Civil Union Backlask in Vt.". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  28. ^ Paulson, Michael (November 2, 2000). "In Wake of Civil Unions, Races Draw National Interest". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  29. ^ Paulson, Michael (November 8, 2000). "Dean Wins in Vt., and Civil Union Fans Exult". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  30. ^ a b c d Miller, Neil (June 17, 2001). "For Better, For Worse Vermont's Civil Union Legislation has been a Boon to Gay Couples". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  31. ^ Paulson, Michael (November 8, 2000). "Dean Wins in Vt., and Civil Union Fans Exult". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  32. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. p. 260. 
  33. ^ Goldberg, Carey (November 9, 2000). "The 2000 Elections: State by State Northeast, Vermont". New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  34. ^ Paulson, Michael (November 11, 2000). "'"Vt. Prelate: 'We Have to Heal Things Here. Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  35. ^ Paulson, Michael (December 30, 2000). "Lieberman Tops 2000's Religion Stories". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  36. ^ Marquard, Bryan K. (November 12, 2000). "After Civil Unions, Can Vermont be Civil?". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  37. ^ a b Goldberg, Carey (July 31, 2001). "Quiet Anniversary for Civil Unions". New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  38. ^ Barnard, Anne (November 8, 2000). "Michigan Says No to Question on Vouchers". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  39. ^ Goldberg, Carey (November 9, 2000). "Changes in Drug Policy and Gun Laws are Picked". New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  40. ^ Moats, David (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Harcourt Books. p. 262. 
  41. ^ Paulson, Michael (June 18, 2004). "New Rites for Vermont Civil Unions". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  42. ^ Bonauto, Mary L. (Winter 2005). "Goodridge in Context". Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 40 (1): 3n6. 
  43. ^ a b "Gay unions gain acceptance in Vt.". Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. November 8, 2004. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  44. ^ "Report of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, April 21, 2008" (PDF). Legislative Work Groups. Vermont State Legislature. Retrieved August 11, 2013. 
  45. ^ a b c d "An Act Relating to Civil Marriage". Vermont General Assembly. April 3, 2009. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  46. ^ Goodnough, Abby (March 25, 2009). "Gay Marriage in Vermont Faces Veto by Governor". New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  47. ^ Gram, Dave (April 3, 2009). "Vt. House advances bill for gay marriage". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  48. ^ "Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill". Local Vermont News. April 6, 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2013. 
  49. ^ Gram, Dave (April 7, 2009). "Vermont Legalizes Gay Marriage, Overrides Governor's Veto". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  50. ^ "D.C. vote puts gay marriage before Congress". Boston Globe. April 9, 2009. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  51. ^ "Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same Sex Couples in Vermont" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-12-02. 
  52. ^ Public Policy Polling: "Vermont supports gay marriage, single-payer health care" August 5, 2011, accessed August 9, 2011
  53. ^ "Recent Poll Shows Vermonters Support Same Sex Marriage". Retrieved 2013-12-02. 
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