1999: Civil Unions in Vermont

In 1999 the Hawaii Supreme Court decline to grant legal recognition to same sex marriages. In the same year, the Vermont Supreme Court passed its decision in Baker v. State and held that same sex couples must be afforded the same legal protections and benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples. While the judge did not require the state to recognize same sex marriages, it asked the state to find a way of treating such couples in the same manner as legally married couples.

The very next year, Vermont passed a bill that allowed same sex couples to form civil unions and county officials were asked to give civil union licenses to same sex couples just like they gave marriage licenses to heterosexual couples.

Being in a civil union would entitled same sex couples in Vermont to receive all state benefits that married couples were entitled to including inheritance, tax benefits, medical decisions, property transfer, etc while employers were required to provide the same benefits to such couples as they provided heterosexual couples. This Vermont law is seen as a landmark law in gay rights. By calling it a civil union, Vermont ensured that the law did not conflict with the laws of other states.

In the first five years of the law, almost 1200 couples from Vermont formed civil unions while more than 6000 couples from other states and even foreign countries formed civil unions in Vermont.

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