Case: Baker v. Vermont

97-01009 | Vermont state trial court

Filed Date: 1997

Closed Date: 1999

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Case Summary

In 1997, three same-sex couples filed suit against the state of Vermont and their respective town governments after they attempted to obtain marriage licenses and were denied based on the fact that they were not of different sexes than their partners. They alleged violations of the state constitution, ch. 1 art. 7, the Common Benefits clause, which predates by nearly a century but is substantially similar in content to the federal Equal Protection clause, although more expansive. The trial cour…

In 1997, three same-sex couples filed suit against the state of Vermont and their respective town governments after they attempted to obtain marriage licenses and were denied based on the fact that they were not of different sexes than their partners. They alleged violations of the state constitution, ch. 1 art. 7, the Common Benefits clause, which predates by nearly a century but is substantially similar in content to the federal Equal Protection clause, although more expansive. The trial court ruled that the marriage statutes could not be construed to permit the issuance of a license to same-sex couples. The court further ruled that the marriage statutes were constitutional because they rationally furthered the State's interest in promoting "the link between procreation and child rearing." This appeal followed.

The Court, 744 A.2d 864, 170 Vt. 194 (1999), held that the primary justification provided by government defendants, that exclusively opposite-sex marriage protected the child-rearing and protection interests of the state, was not justified in practice: many heterosexual couples marry without the intent of raising children, many children are being raised by same-sex couples, and heterosexual union is not the exclusive means of procreation; and prohibitions on same-sex marriage may actually expose children to the risks the state argues opposite-sex marriage exclusivity protects against. The court also held that the legal benefits provided by marriage were of far greater significance than the weak procreative protection argument, and that such an argument could not justify such a significant discrimination. Other potential justifications were undermined by the legislature: same-sex couples can adopt children, artificial reproductive technology is legal, and Vermont idiosyncratically recognizes types of marriage that other states do not.

The Court provided only that "plaintiffs are entitled ... to obtain the same benefits and protections afforded by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples," but left the implementation of that mandate to the state legislature and expressly did not enjoin the state from prohibiting the grant of a marriage license to any same-sex couple. In 2000, the Legislature complied with the decision by instituting civil unions for same-sex couples. Vermont later legalized same-sex marriage effective September 1, 2009. (Civil unions entered into prior to September 1 continued to be recognized as civil unions unless the couple marries.)

Summary Authors

Carlos Torres (5/18/2013)

Claire Lally (3/22/2015)

People


Judge(s)

Amestoy, Jeffrey L. (Vermont)

Dooley, John A. (Vermont)

Johnson, Denise (Vermont)

Judge(s)

Amestoy, Jeffrey L. (Vermont)

Dooley, John A. (Vermont)

Johnson, Denise (Vermont)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

98–032

Opinion of the Supreme Court of Vermont

Vermont state supreme court

744 A.2d 864

Dec. 20, 1999

Dec. 20, 1999

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated July 26, 2022, 3:02 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Vermont

Case Type(s):

Public Benefits/Government Services

Special Collection(s):

Same-Sex Marriage

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1997

Closing Date: 1999

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Three same-sex couple denied marriage licenses by various town clerks.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of Vermont, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1998 - 0

Issues

General:

Gay/lesbian/transgender

Marriage

Discrimination-basis:

Sex discrimination

Sexual orientatation

Affected Gender:

Female

Male