Today in Legal History: Guillotine First Used, Vt. Civil Unions First in U.S.

On this day in 1792, the guillotine reportedly was first used in France to execute a highwayman, Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier. At the time, despite its subsequent notoriety as a means of killing some 15,000 during the French Revolution, the guillotine was considered a swift, certain and more humane way of putting criminals to death than other methods in use on the continent during the 18th Century. (They included the sword, the ax, hanging and burning.) It was also egalitarian, having been adopted as a uniform method of execution to be used throughout France. For details, see this Web article and this Web page.

On this day in 2000, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, with the signing of legislation by the state governor. The controversial bill came in response to a Vermont Supreme Court case, Baker v. State, which said it violated the Vermont constitution to deny same-sex couples the benefits of marriage. For details, see this New York Times article. The case can be found on this Chicago-Kent College of Law Web page, and the bill is on this Vermont Secretary of State Web page. The Vermont law is also discussed on this Employee Benefit Research Institute Web page on benefits available to domestic partners (PDF).

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