In 1997, three same-sex couples sued the State of Vermont and the towns that had denied them marriage licenses. The couples lost the case and appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.
On December 20, 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, stating that they were “entitled under Chapter 1, Article 7 of the Vermont Constitution to obtain the same benefits and protections offered by Vermont law to married opposite-sex couples.” However, this ruling did not order the defendant towns to issue marriage licenses. Instead, the ruling charged the State Legislature with the task of devising a solution.
The House Judiciary Committee introduced bill H.847 in 2000, intended to create state recognition for civil unions between two people of the same sex. Legislative committee hearing records in VSARA record series LEG-006 show how the issue was debated over several weeks. Simultaneously, counter measures were taken up, including H.479, an act to clarify the existing laws concerning marriage, as well as a constitutional amendment proposal to define the act of marriage as between one man and one woman.
Correspondence maintained in legislative committee records (series A-116) and the records of Governor Howard Dean (series A-187) were received from interested and concerned citizens, both in support of and against same-sex unions. Messages of approval and opposition came from out of state as well. Thousands of signatures appeared on petitions to preserve traditional marriage, and some called to put it to a vote of Vermonters. Ultimately, H.847 passed the House 76 to 69, and passed the Senate 19 to 11. Governor Dean signed the legislation into law as Act 91 on April 26, and the law went into effect on July 1, 2000, making Vermont the first state to have civil unions for same-sex couples
Vermont State Archives and Records Administration Office of the Vermont Secretary of State
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