Ripples are crashing into other states from Vermont, where a law in 2000 established a "civil-union" category that is essentially marriage for same-sex partners, complete with spousal rights.
Now a judge in Nassau County, N.Y., has ruled that a male homosexual can sue a hospital as the spouse of another man who died a year ago of medical complications following an auto accident. The pair had exchanged vows and rings in a civil ceremony in Vermont in late 2000.
The ruling is the first in the nation to treat a same-sex couple joined in a Vermont civil union as a married couple. Judge John P. Dunne said New York law allows a common-law spouse from another state to sue for wrongful death and a same-sex partner joined by Vermont's civil-union law should have the same right. State law, he noted, doesn't define "spouses" as being of the opposite sex.
The judge rejected an argument by St. Vincent's Hospital that the civil union was a "narrow circumstance" that allows an exception to federal doctrine requiring states generally to recognize each other's laws. Courts in other states have refused to validate the Vermont law for same-sex couples in their jurisdictions, including in divorce cases.