In some ways it seems like only yesterday when Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith announced, “Please listen to the results of your vote. Those voting, ‘Yes,’ 100; those voting, ‘No,’ 49."
At that moment, on April 7, 2009, amid cheers in the State House and in homes and workplaces across the state, the Vermont Legislature overrode Governor Douglas’s veto of the marriage bill, making Vermont the fourth state to legalize marriage equality and the first to successfully do so via the legislative process.
Return to that historic day with VPR’s Vermont Edition coverage of the override.
Though it’s hard to believe five years have passed since then, think of how far we’ve come!
Thirteen more states have moved into the equality column, some through legislation, some through court decisions, some by a popular vote. Because of last year’s Supreme Court decision knocking down Section 3 of DOMA, the marriages of same-sex couples in Vermont and elsewhere are no longer invisible to the federal government.
Same-sex couples in two more states, Utah and Michigan, briefly had the freedom to marry before the court rulings, which found the state bans on marriage equality unconstitutional, were stayed. (The marriages that took place before the stays are not yet recognized by Utah and Michigan but ARE recognized by the federal government.)
Over the past few months, pro-equality court decisions in a number of other states--including Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma--have added amazing new momentum to the movement. There are dozens of additional state and federal lawsuits moving forward, all pointing toward the Supreme Court.
As Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, says in a Metro Weekly article about the flurry of court activity:
The federal courts are reflecting both that momentum in public opinion and the additional constitutional clarity that came out of our win at the Supreme Court in the DOMA case. The next few months will bring another chapter where we're going to see federal appellate courts now hearing and ruling on the freedom to marry. It is another stage, another step in this build toward our goal of a successful return to the U.S. Supreme Court to finish the job.
Though opponents of equality will keep trying to stall progress, even they concede that the historical trajectory now points away from marriage inequality and toward the freedom to marry.
Many of the roots of this forward momentum are planted firmly in Vermont--in the grassroots work begun by Beth Robinson and Susan Murray when they co-founded The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force nearly two decades ago; in the bravery of the Baker v. Vermont plaintiffs and all those who became the faces and voices of the movement in Vermont; in our state’s spirit of fairness that helped form the consensus that civil unions--while a crucial step forward--were not equal and therefore not enough; in the way Vermonters have now accepted marriage equality as essential to our moral and cultural values.
Even with all this success, it’s important not to grow complacent. Within the last week, Mississippi passed an un-American, anti-gay license-to-discriminate bill inaccurately named “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” While some states have rejected attempts to pass similar draconian legislation, these efforts are likely to continue. Over half of Americans still live in marriage-inequality states. LGBT discrimination is still legal in a majority of states. As long as the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is stalled in Congress, LGBT citizens and their families will remain vulnerable in many parts of the U.S. LGBT people in other parts of the world face daily persecution.
Because we’ve made such remarkable progress in Vermont, we have a unique opportunity to stay informed and keep speaking out for justice. Our motto remains: Equality shouldn’t depend on where you live.
Given the great strides forward over the past five years, there is cause to be optimistic that when we look back five years from now, we’ll be equally astonished by how far we’ve come. The goal of equal marriage across the U.S. is now in sight. If we keep fighting, within five years--quite possibly sooner--all same-sex couples will be able to share the freedom to marry we have in Vermont.
As we look toward to the work that lies ahead, join us in taking a moment today to reflect on our historic victory and celebrate the many Vermonters who made it possible.
Happy 5th Anniversary, Vermont!