The Baker Decision
A Legitimate Exercise
It was not integration we were fighting for, or segregation we were fighting
against, but something else. But what? I don't know, except that we had a
feeling of what it meant to be human.
—Julius Lester, 19811
IT WAS, as Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley observed, “the most closely watched opinion in this court's history.”2 The majority opinion observed that “our opinion provides greater recognition of—and protection for—same-sex relationships than has been recognized by any court of final jurisdiction in this country with the instructive exception” of Hawaii.3
The day the highest court in this state of “fewer people than cows” (according to the bumper stickers) became the first court of last resort in the nation to rule that committed same-sex couples should receive the same rights and benefits of heterosexual spouses, it was reported on the national network nightly news across America. A leading Vermont newspaper heralded Baker v. State with a Japanese-Bomb-Pearl-Harbor–size headline,4 and the newspaper devoted two full pages of space to excerpts from the court's opinion.
If you haven't already read the opinions in Baker, you ought to. The opinions have been dissected and analyzed exhaustively, but the best defense of the Baker decision is in the court's eloquent and tightly reasoned opinion itself, along with Justice Dooley's concurrence and Justice Johnson's dissent.