Vermont's Civil Union Law: Act 91

You've heard about it, but have you read it for yourself?

After the historic Baker v. State in the Supreme Court of Vermont, the Vermont General Assembly drafted and passed into state law the historic Act 91, allowing same-sex couples to lawfully solemnize their committment as do opposite-sex couples, and receive all the same rights and benefits granted to opposite-sex married couples. Although the phrase "civil union" is substituted for "marriage", the two are the same in law. Unfortunately, unlike marriages, civil unions are only valid and legally acknowledged in Vermont. Currently, some lawmakers who oppose Act 91 in whole or in part are making efforts to give Act 91 what has been called a "major" overhaul.

For the interest of the gay and lesbian public and their supporters in Arkansas and elsewhere who would like to see Baker v. State and Act 91 for themselves, below are links to Vermont's law sites carrying the information, as well as to a recent pamphlet about Act 91 from the ACLU.

The original complaint by Stan Baker et al. (his partner, and two lesbian couples), filed July 22, 1997 in the Chittenden Superior Court of Vermont, against State of Vermont et al. (Towns of Shelburne, South Burlington, and Milton) came about after Stan and his partner were not allowed to register for a marriage license in Vermont because they are not heterosexual. The complaint charged that it is unlawful to prohibit same-sex couples from legal marriage.

The State of Vermont then moved to dismiss the original complaint by Plaintiffs Stan Baker et al. on the grounds that the state constitution specifically allows a "marriage" to be made up of only one man and one woman, and because of that no laws are being broken and the complaint should be dismissed.

The Plaintiffs then replied to the motion to dismiss (3 parts), stating that it is unconstitutional to deny human rights to a person based on prejudice; and that the right to decide the unconstitutionality lies with the judicial and not the legislative.

Chittenden Superior Court replies on December 19, 1997 with the Order and Opinion, acknowledging that the power to decide what is unconstitutional lies with the courts, and knocking down six of the seven reasons used by the Attorney General to discriminate against same-sex couples. But despite the argument, the Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed because the wording of the Vermont marriage laws state that marriage is a bond reserved for opposite-sex couples, at least in part because marriage furthers "the link between procreation and child-rearing." Case closed.

On January 15, 1998, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal with the Vermont Supreme Court; the opinion from that court reversed the Superior Court's decision and agreed with the Plaintiff's complaint for several reasons, not the least being that same-sex committed couples do not enjoy the same benefits and rights given to opposite-sex committed couples. Page 28 specifically adresses the Superior Court's disparaging statement that marriage is a heterosexual institution because it is meant to further the "link between procreation and child-rearing". The Supreme Court ends by bringing to light the legendary Dred Scott case on Page 45, stating in so many words that prejudice from one human to another designed to deny them their humanity because of differences is unlawful and inhuman.

Vermont's Legislators are asked to consider and enact legislation consistent with the constitution mandate of the Supreme Court. Act 91: An Act Relating to Civil Unions is the result.

Download Act 91 in MS Word 97 format from the Vermont Legislature site.
The ACLU has published a pamphlet titled A Historic Victory: Civil Unions for Same-Sex Couples: What's Next!, which discusses in plain English what Act 91 means both in letter and spirit.

Find more information about this historic time in the gay and lesbian pursuit of equality at the Vermont Freedom to Marry Organization page.







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