Last spring's passage of a civil-unions law in Vermont, which grants homosexual couples the same rights as married heterosexuals, has pitted neighbor against neighbor in a bitter and widely publicized battle. But from an economic perspective, the political struggle may have its positive side.

As part of a campaign advocating traditional values, opponents of civil unions have blanketed the state with white-and-black signs reading "Take Back Vermont." Upon encountering the slogan, it seems many out-of-state visitors wonder exactly what it means.

Although some are aware of the issues behind the signs, others have interpreted them as a clever state marketing scheme, as in Take Back [a Jug of] Vermont [Maple Syrup]. Public officials and private-sector workers, such as those at Ben and Jerry's ice cream plant in Waterbury, find themselves giving impromptu lessons on the controversial measure, Take Back Vermont and the rival Take Vermont Forward movement.

Steve Patterson, deputy director of Vermont's commerce agency, cites a call he received from a Massachusetts woman in the marketing industry asking how the state organized such an effective marketing campaign. Governor Howard Dean even addressed the issue, using a heavy Southern accent to mimic a tourist asking, "How did you ever get so many people to put up those signs?"

"Our primary goal is to get people into the state, hopefully to buy some products," Patterson says. "If this helps that goal, then great."