Citation. 170 Vt. 194, 744 A.2d 864 (1999)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs are same sex couples denied marriage licenses in their respective towns. Plaintiffs sued their respective towns and the state of Vermont for declaratory relief.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Under the State Constitution “Common Benefits” clause, the state is required to offer same sex couples the same protections opposite-sex couples are afforded.
Plaintiffs are three same sex couples that were denied marriage licenses in their respective towns. Plaintiffs sued seeking declaratory relief from the refusal to issue the marriage licenses. The Defendants are the State of Vermont and the respective towns. The trial court found for the Defendants on the basis that the marriage statute furthers the state’s interest in promoting the link between procreation and child rearing. Plaintiffs appealed.
May the State of Vermont exclude same-sex couples from the benefits and protections afforded to opposite-sex married couples?
The State is constitutionally required to extend to same sex couples the common benefits and protections afforded to married opposite-sex couples.
Whether this ultimately takes the form of inclusion within the marriage laws themselves or a parallel domestic partnership system or some other statutory equivalent is up to the state legislature.
The Vermont Constitution “Common Benefits” clause requires that the state government be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people and not for the particular advantage of a single person or set of persons.
The dissent focused on the court’s limited role is dictating public morals and its view that this decision did just that. Also, the court disagreed with the approach the court took which ordered the legislature to provide a remedy, but failed to rule whether the state marriage laws were constitutional or not.
Note however, that the dissenting justice agrees that same-sex couples should be given the right to marry.
Concurrence. The concurring justice focused on his disagreement with the analytical framework the majority utilized to reach this decision. Specifically, the concurring justice believed the majority now requires a much higher standard of justification for state legislation and this would come into conflict with the narrow role he perceived for the state courts.
The court focused their discussion on the state constitutional requirements. The prohibition against same-sex marriage was found in violation of the common benefits clause. But, the court refused to rule the definition of marriage and the statute unconstitutional. Rather, it put the burden on the state legislature to craft an alternative solution that would give same-sex couples equal rights as married cou