Ten years ago today Howard Dean signed Vermont’s civil unions legislation, making Vermont the first state to provide the same legal benefits as marriage to same sex couples.
That signing marked the end of a legal process that had begun many months earlier with a Vermont Supreme Court case: Baker versus the State of Vermont. Three same sex couples, including Stan Baker, who gave his name to the case, sued the state over violations of their civil rights.
Just before Christmas in 1999, the Supreme Court ruled that Vermont’s current prohibitions on same sex marriage were a violation of civil rights. But the Supreme Court stopped short of requiring marriage laws to change. Instead, it instructed the legislature to either change the marriage statutes or create an alternative legal mechanism granting the same rights to same-sex couples.
Now-retired Supreme Court Justice James Morse took part in the unanimous decision. Speaking at a Dartmouth College forum last year, Morse said the court saw itself working in partnership with the legislature, rather than acting alone on the same sex marriage issue:
The man who wrote the ruling in the Baker Case, which led to the implementation of civil unions was Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy. VPR’s Jane Lindholm talked with Amestoy about the case and its impact ten years later.