On December 20, 1999, in a groundbreaking decision, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state must guarantee exactly the same protections for same-sex couples that it does for heterosexual couples (Goldberg, 1999). The court left it to the state legislature to decide whether to accomplish this by legalizing same-sex marriages in Vermont, by adopting a domestic partnership law that would provide all the protections afforded by marriage, or by some other means. To extend equal rights to gay and lesbian couples “who seek nothing more, nor less, than legal protection and security for their avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting relationship is simply, when all is said and done,” the opinion stated, “a recognition of our common humanity” (Baker et al. v. State of Vermont et al., 1999, p. 45).
Thus began a new chapter in the history of legal and policy issues affecting children of lesbian and gay parents. The Vermont legislature responded to the court's ruling by creating the possibility for civil unions among same-sex partners. A civil union is a “comprehensive legal status parallel to civil marriage for all purposes under Vermont state law” (ACLU, 2001) but does not affect the partners' status under federal law. The new statute, which took effect on July 1, 2000, allows same-sex couples who undertake civil unions to move from the status of legal strangers with regard to one another to the status of legal next of kin, at least for purposes of Vermont law.