The Law School Authority

Baker v. State Case Brief

Summary of Baker v. State, Supreme Ct. of VT (1999)

Parties: PL’s are 3 same-sex couples who have lived together in committed relationships for periods ranging from 4-25 years.  Two of the couples have raised children together.  Each couple applied for a marriage license form their respective town clerk and were denied.

Cause of action/remedy sought: PL’s seek a declaratory judgment that the refusal to issue them a license violated state law.

Procedural History: Trial court the marriage statute was constitutional b/c it furthered the State’s interest in promoting “the link between procreation and child bearing.”  Upon further review in this court, judgment reversed, with the effect suspended until the legislature comes up with law in accord with its decision.

Facts: Three same-sex couples want to apply for marriage licenses but are denied from the clerk in their respective towns.

Issue(s): Under property law, may the state of VT exclude same-sex couples from the benefits and protections that its laws provide to opposite-sex marriages when marriage licenses are denied to those couples based on the V constitution?

Holding: No.  The state is constitutionally required to extend same-sex couples the same common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under VT law.

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning:  Article seven confers the benefits and protections of the state to all people, regardless of their sex or sexuality.  “Part of community” disadvantaged by the state law is a significant one in relation to the set of people who are protected by the law.

Government’s purpose in drawing a classification that includes some members of the community within the scope of the challenged law but excludes others?  Lots of gay couples are finding ways to have children outside of conventional means, but so have opposite-sex couples and heterosexual-single parents.  Thus, there is a discriminatory nature to the statute, as it fails to account for all sectors of people who are trying to have family lives as those who might be viable candidates for marriage.

Does the omission of the part of the community form benefits, protection and security of challenged law bear a reasonable and just relation to the governmental purpose?  While the laws relating to marriage have changed over the years, its benefits have not diminished in value.  They include the right to receive a portion of the estate of a spouse who dies intestate and protection against disinheritance through elective share provisions, preference of being appointed as the personal representative of a spouse who dies intestate, and many others.  Seeing as there are lots of protections and benefits, they should be given to all people who want to get married.

Rule: Common Benefits Clause of V constitution.  “Specific proscription against Governmental favoritism toward not only groups or sets of men, but also toward any particular family or single man, underscores the framers’ resentment of of political preference of any kind.

Did court avoid issues?: No.

Dicta: The court is not applying Equal Protection portion of the State Constitution.

Concurrences: (in part, dissent in part): This is also a case of sex discrimination, in addition to the unconstitutional exclusion of same-sex couples from the benefit of marriage.




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