Vermont Recognizes Civil Unions


In April 2000 the Vermont legislature passed and the governor signed landmark legislation granting same gender couples many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage through the establishment of civil unions. The legislation was in response to the Vermont Supreme Court decision December 20, 1999 in the ground breaking case of Baker v. State.
As of July 1, 2000, a same-sex couple from any state who are at least age 18 and not closely related by blood may apply to Vermont town clerks for a civil union license, have that license "certified" by a justice of the peace or willing member of the clergy, and then receive a civil union certificate.

Parties to a civil union will enjoy the same state law protections and responsibilities as are available to spouses in a marriage, thereby transforming gay and lesbian families from "legal strangers" to legal "next of kin." The protections includes preferences for guardianship of and medical decision-making for an incapacitated partner; automatic inheritance rights; the right to leave work to care for an ill spouse; hospital visitation rights; control of a partner's body upon death; the right to be treated as an economic unit for tax purposes under state law; greater access to family health insurance policies; the ability to obtain joint policies of insurance and joint credit; parentage rights; and the right to divorce and to an ordered method for ascertaining property division as well as child custody and support. The law applies to private parties as well and discrimination against parties to a civil union is considered both marital status and sexual orientation discrimination.

It is important to note that the benefits and protections available to couples through civil unions are only those provided through the statutes, case law and regulations of the State of Vermont. Unlike marriage, civil unions do not encompass federal recognition, nor is it clear whether other states will recognize a civil union formed in Vermont.

While people from other states may travel to Vermont to form a civil union, just as they do for marriages, non-Vermonters still need to take the limited measures they can in their own states to protect their families, for example, by having wills and powers of attorney for financial and medical decision-making.