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State Receive free daily summaries of new opinions from the Vermont Supreme Court. Baker v. State Annotate this Case. State ; Vt. The effect of the Court's decision is suspended, and jurisdiction is retained in this Court, to permit the Legislature to consider and enact legislation consistent with the constitutional mandate described herein. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Vermont Supreme Court, State Street, Montpelier, Vermont of any errors in order that corrections may be made before this opinion goes to press.

Supreme Court On Appeal from v. Chittenden Superior Court State of Vermont, et al. November Term, Linda Levitt, J. Beth Robinson and Susan M. William H. Timothy M. Gregg H. Richard T. Vicario and S. Eileen M. Blackwood of Blackwood and Kraynak, Ladies seeking sex Common Vermont. Peter M. Philip C. Robert H. Clarke A. Jon R. Duncan F. Kilmartin, Newport, and David R. William M. McFarland, Kimberlee W. Colby and Samuel B. Timothy J. O'Connor, Jr. Peter Brady, et al. May the State of Vermont exclude same-sex couples from the benefits and protections that its laws provide to opposite-sex married couples?

That is the fundamental question we address in this appeal, a question that the Court well knows arouses deeply-felt religious, moral, and political beliefs. Our constitutional responsibility to consider the legal merits of issues properly before us provides no exception for the controversial case.

The issue before the Court, moreover, does not turn on the religious or moral debate over intimate same-sex relationships, but rather on the statutory and constitutional basis for the exclusion of same-sex couples from the secular benefits and protections offered married couples.

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We conclude that under the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont Constitution, which, in pertinent part, re, That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community, and not for the particular emolument or advantage of any single person, family, or set of persons, who are a part only of that community, Vt. I, art 7. We hold that the State is constitutionally required to extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law.

Whether this ultimately takes the form of inclusion within the marriage laws themselves or a parallel "domestic partnership" system or some equivalent statutory alternative, rests with the Legislature. Whatever system is chosen, however, must conform with the constitutional imperative to afford all Vermonters the common benefit, protection, and security of the law.

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Plaintiffs are three same-sex couples who have lived together in committed relationships for periods ranging from four to twenty-five years. Two of the couples have raised children together. Each couple applied for a marriage from their respective town clerk, and each was refused a as ineligible under the applicable state marriage laws. Plaintiffs thereupon filed this lawsuit against defendants -- the State of Vermont, the Towns of Milton and Shelburne, and the City of South Burlington -- seeking a declaratory judgment that the refusal to issue them a violated the marriage statutes and the Vermont Constitution.

The State, ed by Shelburne and South Burlington, moved to dismiss the action on the ground that plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The Town of Milton answered the complaint and subsequently moved for judgment on the pleadings.

Plaintiffs opposed the motions and cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the State's and the Town of Milton's motions, denied plaintiffs' motion, and dismissed the complaint. The court ruled that the marriage statutes could not be construed to permit the issuance of a to same-sex couples. The court further ruled that the marriage statutes were constitutional because they rationally furthered the State's interest in promoting "the link between procreation and child rearing.

FN1 I. The Statutory Claim Plaintiffs initially contend the trial court erred in concluding that the marriage statutes render them ineligible for a marriage .

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It is axiomatic that the principal objective of statutory construction is to discern the legislative intent. See Merkel v.

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Nationwide Ins. While we may explore a variety of sources to discern that intent, it is also a truism of statutory interpretation that where a statute is unambiguous we rely on the plain and ordinary meaning of the words chosen. See In re P. Board of Dental Examiners, Vt. Vermont's marriage statutes are set forth in Chapter 1 of Title 15, entitled "Marriage," which defines the requirements and eligibility for entering into a marriage, and Chapter of Title 18, entitled "Marriage Records and s," which prescribes the forms and procedures for obtaining a and solemnizing a marriage.

Although it is not necessarily the only possible definition, there is no doubt that the plain Ladies seeking sex Common Vermont ordinary meaning of "marriage" is the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. See Webster's New International Dictionary 2d ed. This understanding of the term is well rooted in Vermont common law. See Le Barron v. Le Barron, 35 Vt. Field, 13 Vt. Overseers of the Poor of the Ladies seeking sex Common Vermont of Brunswick, 2 Vt.

The legislative understanding is also reflected in the enabling statute governing the issuance of marriage s, which provides, in part, that the "shall be issued by the clerk of the town where either the bride or groom resides. See Webster's, supra, at bride defined as "a woman newly married, or about to be married;" bridegroom defined as "a man newly married, or about to be married". Further evidence of the legislative assumption that marriage consists of a union of opposite genders may be found in the consanguinity statutes, which expressly prohibit a man from marrying certain female relatives, see 15 V.

In addition, the annulment statutes explicitly refer to "husband and wife," see id. See, e. Wright, Vt. These statutes, read as a whole, reflect the common understanding that marriage under Vermont law consists of a union between a man and a woman.

Plaintiffs essentially concede this fact. They argue, nevertheless, that the underlying purpose of marriage is to protect and encourage the union of committed couples and that, absent an explicit legislative prohibition, the statutes should be interpreted broadly to include committed same-sex couples. Plaintiffs rely principally on our decision in In re B. There, we held that a woman who was co-parenting the two children of her same-sex partner could adopt the children without terminating the natural mother's parental rights.

Although the statute provided generally that an adoption deprived the natural parents of their legal rights, it contained an exception where the adoption was by the "spouse" of the natural parent. See id. Technically, therefore, the exception was inapplicable. We concluded, however, that the purpose of the law was not to restrict the exception to legally married couples, but to safeguard the child, and that to apply the literal language of the statute in these circumstances would defeat the statutory purpose and "reach an absurd result.

Although the Legislature had undoubtedly not even considered same-sex unions when the law was enacted inour interpretation was consistent with its "general intent and spirit. Contrary to plaintiffs' claim, B. We are not dealing in this case with a narrow statutory exception requiring a broader reading than its literal words would permit in order to avoid a result plainly at odds with the legislative purpose. Unlike B. Accordingly, we reject plaintiffs' claim that they were entitled to a under the statutory scheme governing marriage.

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