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Though spring has seemed slow in arriving this year, a very important date is coming up quickly!
On April 28th--less than a week away now--oral arguments will take place on the four marriage cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. At stake is the nationwide freedom to marry, and we are lucky that Mary Bonauto of GLAD and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier will be making the case for marriage equality before the Court.
Here's a preview and a profile of Mary Bonauto's many accomplishments from Evan Wolfson, which include Mary's work right here in Vermont.
Next Tuesday will be an exciting day!
Six years ago today, the Vermont Legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas' veto, making Vermont the fourth U.S. state with marriage equality and the first to achieve it via the legislative process.
Relive the moment in this April 8, 2009 article from the Burlington Free Press.
It's been a week with a couple of setbacks. The Alabama Supreme Court ordered the state's probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, creating legal chaos in the state. And the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of the Nebraska ruling that would have allowed same-sex couples the freedom to marry beginning this coming Monday. Now, an appeal of the Nebraska case will be heard in May. These are most likely temporary delays, but for some families, waiting is not a luxury they have.
Today, however, there is some good news for the larger marriage equality picture.
The Obama administration / U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that state bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional. The brief calls for nationwide marriage equality.
The brief reads, in part:
“These facially discriminatory laws impose concrete harms on same-sex couples and send the inescapable message that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, unworthy of the recognition and benefits that opposite-sex couples take for granted. The bans cannot be reconciled with the fundamental constitutional guarantee of ‘equal protection of the laws.'”
Read more, including a link to the entire DOJ brief here.
In addition, a host of other groups filed pro-equality amicus briefs today, including a group of Congressional Democrats, a group made up of over 300 major businesses and corporations, and a group of pro-equality Republicans.
All of these groups are on the right side of history and add momentum as we head towards a definitive Supreme Court decision, the kind of momentum that helps us through the occasional setbacks.
Documentary Film Depicts Love Story Behind U.S. Supreme Court Decision Loving v. Virginia
With the United States Supreme Court set to make a definitive ruling on nationwide marriage equality later this year, a March program presented by the Bennington Branch of the American Association for University Women and the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force is especially timely.
A free screening of “The Loving Story,” an award-winning documentary about the 1967 landmark civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, will take place in Bennington at Oldcastle Theatre on Saturday, March 14 at 3 p.m.
Two guest speakers will accompany the film (running time, 77 minutes). Former LIFE magazine writer Barbara Villet will discuss the work of her late husband Grey Villet, whose photographs of Mildred and Richard Loving, taken in 1965 while Villet was on assignment for LIFE, appear in the film.
In addition, Beth Robinson, of Ferrisburgh, who in 1999 argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry, and who now serves as a Justice on that court, will trace the impact of the precedent-setting 1967 Loving decision on contemporary same-sex marriage cases.
The Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. “The Loving Story” includes recently discovered 16mm film footage of the Lovings and their young ACLU lawyers, as well as first-person testimony by their daughter Peggy Loving and Grey Villet’s rare documentary photographs.
Guest speaker Barbara Villet, who lives in Shushan, New York, says of her husband’s photographs of the couple: “He chose, as he did in every essay we ever worked on together, to seek out the literal heart of the matter: a love story.”
A world class photojournalist whose work was featured in LIFE, Grey Villet received photojournalism’s most prestigious award in 1955 when he was named Magazine Photographer of the Year. His photos of Mildred and Richard Loving were taken over a two-week visit to their home. The short picture
essay that appeared in LIFE was not so much the story of a legal battle, but a love story. These photos may be viewed at www.greyvillet.com/essay/lovings.html.
Beth Robinson was co-counsel to the plaintiffs in Vermont's groundbreaking case Baker v. State of Vermont, which led to Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil union law. Beth was a co-founder of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force and a leader in Vermont's freedom to marry movement, whose work culminated in the Vermont Legislature's passage of a law extending the right to marry to same sex couples in 2009. In 2011, Governor Peter Shumlin appointed Beth to serve as an Associate Justice on the Vermont Supreme Court..
“The Loving Story,” directed by Nancy Buirski, won Emmy and Peabody Awards in 2013 and was shortlisted for an Oscar.
Starting the year off right, on January 1, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order that makes it clear that ALL Florida clerks must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting next week. (The stay on his earlier ruling finding the state's discriminatory marriage ban unconstitutional expires at the end of the day Monday.)
In the view of equality advocates, the breadth of Judge Hinkle's ruling has been clear from the start--it applies to the whole state. However, state officials, led by anti-gay Florida AG Pam Bondi, have continued to put up roadblocks, even after The 11th Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected their appeals for a continued stay. We hope this puts a final end to their delay tactics.
Appropriately, The Tampa Bay Times declared Pam Bondi a "modern-day Anita Bryant" (remember her?) and Florida's "Loser of 2014." Read that quote in context here.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Salt Lake Tribune named the six plaintiffs in the Utah marriage case "Utahns of the Year." The paper wrote: "Because of these Utah plaintiffs — who bravely made public their most private lives — the state took an unlikely position among the vanguard in the biggest civil-rights movement of the day. Forever, their names will be associated with a tidal wave of change that swept the country."
Across the Atlantic, the kilts came out and same-sex couples officially began marrying in Scotland.
Last but not least, the U.S. Supreme Court justices are meeting privately on January 9th to review the marriage equality appeals before them. If they decide to take up one of the cases, there could be a ruling from them as early as June 2015. Which means the year is already off to an exciting start: Stay tuned!
When Beth Robinson and Susan Murray co-founded The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force nearly twenty years ago, the goal of full marriage equality seemed, for many reasons, a distant dream. Same-sex couples did not have the freedom to marry anywhere in the U.S. The possibility of including same-sex couples in civil marriage was not even on many people’s radar screens.
What a difference two decades makes!
Today, marriage equality is a reality in an ever-growing majority of U.S. states. The momentum toward nationwide equality is undeniable. No longer is it a question of if but when.
Throughout these two decades, Vermont Freedom to Marry has been at the epicenter of the push for marriage equality, and the collective voice of equality-supportive Vermonters has been a model for how grassroots activism can blossom and bring about fundamental societal change.
Because of the hard work, dedication, and persistence of all those who believed in the dream, all Vermont marriages are now equal. In short, we did it!
As we look back with pride at our accomplishments in Vermont and forward to when all Americans have an equal right to marry, the time is right to consider the next chapter for Vermont Freedom to Marry. Success means the need for Vermont Freedom to Marry’s e-mail action alerts has diminished. Yet, because equality still depends on where you live, there remains a place for us--as Vermonters and equality pioneers--to stay informed as a community and keep spreading the word on the value of equal marriage for same-sex couples and their families.
We want to keep welcoming additional states into the equality fold and supporting those who are still striving for the dignity and respect same-sex couples and their families receive in Vermont. With the circuit split created by this week’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding discriminatory marriage bans in four states, it is very likely the U.S. Supreme Court will be taking up a marriage equality case in the near future.
While VFM will no longer be sending e-mail blasts, we will continue closely following the national marriage-equality movement and bringing the news back to you. We hope you will stay in touch with us.
If social media is not your preference, consider joining the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force’s core volunteer listserv on Google Groups by emailing your request for an invitation to Sheryl@vtfreetomarry.org. Here, you’ll receive regular news updates from the VFM board, along with notices about local equality-related events. Listserv members are welcome to contribute to the conversation.
Finally, we would like to thank each and every one of you reading this for all you have done to help bring about the amazing shift toward marriage equality. We’re not quite at the last chapter of the U.S. freedom-to-marry movement but, because of all we’ve worked together to achieve, it is now within reach.
The VFM Board
While last week's marriage news hasn't been quite as momentous as the previous week's, there's still a lot going on.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the federal government is officially recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples in six more states, bringing the total to 32.
Said AG Holder:
"With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans. We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex married couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law."
It's amazing to note that marriage equality has done a complete flip in a few short weeks. Before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in and the Supreme Court lifted the stays on the other favorable Circuit Court decisions, the equality tally was 19-31. Now it's 32-18, with several more expected soon, even if state officials in South Carolina, Kansas, and Montana are digging in their anti-gay heels.
One of the six new states on the list was Wyoming, where happy gay couples began marrying on Tuesday, Oct. 21.
Another moving story comes from Idaho: U.S. Navy veteran Madelyn "Lee" Taylor had been fighting the state of Idaho for the right to be buried next to her late wife, Jean. Finally, now that Idaho's marriage ban has fallen, Lee's wish is a reality. Inside Lee's bittersweet victory is a true story of love and persistence and how deeply marriage can matter to families at their most vulnerable times in life.
"Words can’t describe how incredibly grateful I am for all the work that went into making our wishes possible. Idaho is where some of our best memories together are and it’s where I want to spend eternity with Jean."
Even with all these advancements, there is still work to be done to bring equality to the eighteen states lacking it. We need to also root for gay couples in Puerto Rico. A federal judge ruled against lesbian plaintiffs who were seeking to have their legal Massachusetts marriage recognized in Puerto Rico. In supporting discrimination, U.S. District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez went against the nearly 50 judges who have ruled in favor of equality this year. The good news is the case will now move to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, where love and justice are expected to win.
We're not yet at 50, but we're getting there!
The U.S. marriage-equality landscape changed remarkably this week.
Overnight, the number of states where same-sex couples have or will soon have the freedom to marry went from 19 to 30!
On Monday, the Supreme Court, to the surprise of many, denied review of all seven marriage petitions before it. This meant that stays on appeals court decisions striking down discriminatory marriage bans were lifted, immediately affecting Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah. The decision also paved the way for marriage equality in the other states under the jurisdiction of these appeals courts: North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming.
The very next day, five more states gained ground.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found the bans on marriage equality in Idaho and Nevada in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling also affects other states in the 9th Circuit: Alaska, Arizona, and Montana.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:
"When we integrated our schools, education improved. When we opened our juries to women, our democracy became more vital. When we allowed lesbian and gay soldiers to serve openly in uniform, it enhanced unit cohesion. When same-sex couples are married, just as when opposite-sex couples are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to all."
The 9th Circuit decision raises the number of states soon expected to have marriage equality to 35!
What are the implications of this sudden transformation of the equality landscape? On the one hand, in declining to review any of these cases, the Supreme Court left unresolved the fundamental question of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. On the other hand, in allowing the freedom to marry to proceed in so many states, the marriage-equality momentum is significantly stronger than it was only a few days ago.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the Supreme Court was sending a “bright-green light,” telling “the lower courts and states that it’s time to end marriage discrimination.”
Roberta Kaplan, who represented Edie Windsor in her successful DOMA challenge, told The New Yorker:
“Our core thesis in Windsor was that Edie and Thea’s marriage was the same as any other couple who have been together for four decades. We thought we would win in Windsor if we could persuade the Justices that that was so. What the Court did today was extend that basic principle even further, since now most Americans in most of the states will live in a place where the marriages of gay people are a reality.”
Some analysts are arguing that the fight for the freedom to marry is essentially over. Read this line of thinking in The Atlantic. Another legal analyst shows how nationwide marriage equality may be achieved without the Supreme Court ever taking another marriage case. If, however, one of the circuit courts, where decisions are still pending, finds a state’s ban on marriage equality constitutional, then the issue is likely to head back to the Supreme Court.
What is known for sure is that, because of the incredible forward movement this week, same-sex couples are marrying in Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Nevada. Despite vows of resistance from anti-gay political leaders in some states, there will be more and more happy newlyweds in the days and months to come.
Still, Evan Wolfson reminds us that each day the unfair patchwork of marriages laws continues is another day when same-sex couples and their families face harm:
"But we are one country, with one Constitution, and the court's delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places."
There is still work to be done, but this week brings us that much closer to the day when marriage equality will not depend on where in the U.S. you live and when all Americans will have an equal opportunity to marry.
Vermont Freedom to Marry honors the life and work of former state representative Marion Milne, who passed away on Monday at the age of 79.
Marion Milne served as a Republican in the Vermont House of Representatives from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, after the Vermont Supreme Court Baker v. Vermont decision put the question of rights and benefits for same-sex couples before the Legislature, Representative Milne became a crucial supporter of the civil unions bill, voting her conscience despite heavy opposition from many of her constituents. Because of that brave vote of conscience, Milne was defeated by an anti-gay candidate in the next primary and lost her seat in the House.
In the House debate around the civil unions vote, Milne spoke of the potential cost of her vote: “Depending on how we vote, this decision may cost some of us our political careers. If I am measured only by this one vote in my entire political life, I have served my constituents well by voting for this bill. I will not be silenced by hatred and intolerance.”
In a 2009 interview in Clockworks, Goddard College’s alumni magazine, Milne reflected on her legislative votes, saying she tried to do what was right for her grandchildren: “Quite often, if there was some issue that was troubling me, I tried to think about what was best for these kids in the future, and that helped me alot.”
In another 2009 interview Milne spoke directly about her vote in favor of civil unions to reporter John Curran, saying she had no regrets: "I spent many long hours on a snowy night at the hearing and I listened to everything that came before us. It was somewhere in there that I realize this was a civil right, and I supported it. ... The sky hasn't fallen in or anything. I did what I thought was right.”
When the Vermont House overrode the governor’s veto of the marriage-equality bill in 2009, Milne expressed her support: "I was thrilled and I think it's a civil rights issue and the state of Vermont has done a wonderful thing today and I'm very happy."
Though Milne didn’t return to politics after her defeat, she continued to help run Milne Travel, the business she founded in 1975, and served on numerous boards and commissions dealing with civil rights, women’s, and elder issues.
Speaking yesterday to Vermont Public Radio about her loss, Former Shelburne Representative Tom Little, an architect of the civil unions bill, said, “She is one of the people who helped bring Vermont forward.”
Click here for the full VPR remembrance: http://digital.vpr.net/post/former-rep-marion-milne-dies
Vermont Freedom to Marry joins with all those who mourn the loss of this courageous leader. We’re thankful for Marion Milne’s many years of helping bring Vermont and Vermonters forward and send our sincere condolences to the Milne family.
Marion Milne’s life will be celebrated on Friday, August 15, 2014, at 10:30 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church of Barre. Memorial contributions may be made to the Calef Memorial Library, c/o the Keith Milne Fund, P.O. Box 141, Washington, VT 05675.
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