Take Back Vermont

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Take Back Vermont was a campaign in the U.S. state of Vermont in the year 2000. Its formation was triggered by the state legislature's passage of a law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000.[1] Its aim was wider than repealing the civil unions law.[2] It was also a counter-reaction to the state's changing demographics, particularly the arrival of large numbers of affluent, liberal, Democratic residents from out-of-state, sometimes called flatlanders.[3] Ruth Dwyer, the Republican nominee for governor that year who, despite being from out of state herself,[4] was closely identified with the movement, spoke of "a clash of outlooks" with the other side consisting of "new people who make the rules for others and don't listen".[5]

Signs bearing the words "Take Back Vermont" were printed by the thousands and were sold for $5 apiece.[6] They became a regular fixture on roadside barns, garages and front porches, most prominently in Orange and Washington counties.[3] Some are still on display seventeen years later as seen in the Northeast Kingdom.[7]

The intent of the movement was to obtain public support (money and votes) to elect officeholders who would repeal these liberal statutes. Ultimately, the movement was unsuccessful. In retrospect, the movement was part of the ongoing culture war.


In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Vermont that existing prohibitions on same-sex marriage were a violation of rights granted by the Vermont Constitution. As a result, the Vermont legislature was ordered to either allow same-sex marriages, or implement an alternative legal mechanism according similar rights. The legislature ultimately voted to enact civil unions but only after months of heated and acrimonious debate. The controversy touched every corner of the state as residents expressed their views through public meetings, lobbying campaigns and placards.[8] Like the civil unions debate, the presence of Take Back Vermont signs was deeply polarizing.[9]


The movement was inherently political and it defined the 2000 election in the state, particularly the gubernatorial race. Howard Dean, the Democratic governor who had signed the civil unions bill, faced a challenge from Ruth Dwyer, a Republican running on a platform closely tied to the Take Back Vermont movement. Dean, actively campaigning to take Vermont forward instead,[10] won re-election but Republicans managed to win a majority in the state's House of Representatives. Indeed, the House voted the following year to outlaw same-sex marriages, although the Democratic-controlled Senate killed that measure.[11]

In the longer term, the movement was largely unsuccessful. The legislature revisited the issue of rights for gay couples in 2009, when it debated and ultimately passed a same-sex marriage bill. Take Back Vermont signs made an appearance then as well, although to a far lesser extent.[12] The 2009 debate on marriage was notable for being far less divisive than the 2000 debate on civil unions.


  1. ^ Jack Hoffman (September 24, 2000). "Civil unions seen as target of 'Take Back Vermont'". Rutland Herald. 
  2. ^ Hanna Rosin (October 12, 2000). "Same-sex union divides Vermont town". The Washington Post. 
  3. ^ a b Carey Goldberg (September 3, 2000). "Vermont Residents Split Over Civil Unions Law". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "MegaPath â€" Premium Business Internet & VoIP Service". Speakeasy.org. Retrieved 2016-07-02. 
  5. ^ Ellen Goodman (November 5, 2000). "'Take Back Vermont,' the signs say, but take it back to what?". The Boston Globe. 
  6. ^ John Dillon (September 24, 2000). "'Take Back' effort gets a push by POST". Rutland Herald. 
  7. ^ Lluvia Mulvaney-Stanak (July 21, 2010). "Let's Get Visible". Seven Days. 
  8. ^ David Moats (2004). Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0-15-101017-X. 
  9. ^ Carey Goldberg (October 25, 2000). "Marriage Law Roils Vermont Elections". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Dean Officially Dives In". WCAX. June 23, 2003. 
  11. ^ "The wedding waltz". The Economist. March 22, 2001. 
  12. ^ Elissa Burnell (March 18, 2009). "Hundreds Turn Out To Debate Gay Marriage". WFFF-TV (Fox 44).