The Vermont Supreme Court ruled today that lesbian and gay couples must receive benefits and protections equal to those given to married couples of the opposite sex. The Court is leaving it up to the state Legislature to determine whether the benefits will be given through formal marriages laws or a parallel domestic partnership system.
Three couples filed suit in July 1997 after they were denied marriage licenses by their local town clerks. The couples argued that the inability to legally marry denied them over 300 benefits at the state level and 1,000 at the federal level.
Although all five justices agreed that lesbian and gay couples were entitled to the same benefits as couples of the opposite sex. Three justices joined a concurring opinion challenging the reasoning behind Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy’s decision. Justice Denise Johnson wrote a separate opinion stating that while the court recognized certain rights for lesbian and gay couples, it “declines to give them any relief other than an exhortation to the Legislature to deal with the problem.”
The state Legislature will address the issue of equal benefits for lesbian and gay couples when it reconvenes in January 2000.