MICHAEL MELLO begins his book, Legalizing Gay Marriage: Ver- mont and the National Debate, with the astute observation that “like abortion and capital punishment, same-sex marriage sits on the cultural fault line of morality, religion, and law.” Mello explores the topic of same-sex marriage through a fascinating discussion of Baker v. State, a 1999 decision of the Vermont Supreme Court, which, in recognition of “our common humanity,” held that the Vermont constitution guarantees same-sex couples the same benefits and protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. In response to Baker, the Vermont legislature enacted a “civil unions” law that provided to gay couples more than 300 benefits enjoyed by married heterosexuals but stopped short of opening up the institution of civil marriage to include gay and lesbian couples.
Although others have written about the creation of civil unions in Vermont, Mello goes beyond the formal confines of the courtroom and the legislative chamber and, through a remarkable collection of primary sources, presents a fascinating description of the political and cultural environment that resulted in the creation of civil unions. Mello also takes issue with others who have unqualified praise for Vermont's approach. He acknowledges that Vermont's civil union represents a significant step forward in the struggle for gay rights, but insists that it ultimately fails because it stigmatizes same-sex unions through the same sort of “separate but equal” treatment that once characterized racial distinctions and that was ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. Mello's analysis makes clear that even in the most progressive quarters, our nation is in denial about the extent of our homophobia.
Legalizing Gay Marriage is a most timely and important discussion of an issue that is likely to dominate the social and legal agenda for years to come. Indeed, in 2003, several Canadian courts held that the prohibition on same-sex marriage violates Canada's Charter of Rights and