Equality Practice: Liberal Reflections on the Jurisprudence of Civil Unions

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Eskridge, William N., Jr.
article description
On April 26, 2000, Vermont's governor signed legislation recognizing civil unions between same-sex couples. Under the new law, same-sex couples entering into civil unions will enjoy the same benefits and obligations that Vermont law provides for different-sex couples who enter into civil marriages. The law was a legislative response to Baker v. State, a state supreme court decision interpreting the state constitution as requiring the state to equalize the benefits and obligations afforded same-sex couples and different-sex married couples. The court's decision explicitly contemplated the possibility that the legislature could remedy the discrimination either by extending civil marriage to same-sex couples, or by creating a new institution entailing the same state-sanctioned benefits (such as the right to bring a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a spouse) or obligations (such as the duty of support and maintenance) for same-sex couples that are afforded to different-sex married couples. Six European countries had created such new institutions, called registered partnerships.