We have a bumper sticker on our car: “Keep Vermont Civil.” The sticker is a bit tattered, since it goes back to the controversy about “civil unions”—the Vermont law passed in 2000 establishing various legal equivalencies to marital rights for gay and lesbian couples. The legislature had been forced to take action following the 1999 ruling of the Vermont Supreme Court holding that denial of marital rights to such unions violated the Vermont constitution’s “common benefits” clause.
In a neat bit of Solomonic judgment, the court both rejected the gay and lesbian plaintiffs’ claim that they were entitled to marriage licenses and declared that they were entitled to the benefits “incident on the marital relation.” The court ruled that those benefits could be established by granting a marriage license, but that there might be other legislative means to assure proper benefits. The matter of specific statute was handed over to the legislature. The result was “civil unions.”