Advocates and activists on all ends of an increasingly vast spectrum sat anxiously on April 7, waiting for a conclusion that had been years in the making.That morning, the verdict was announced: Vermont would legalize same-sex marriage.
“I feel this is a huge step,” said Castleton physical education instructor Lisa Pleban. “Finally, elected officials have enough common sense to do the right thing and afford basic human rights to committed individuals who wanted no more than equality.”
Although Massachusetts paved the way in 2004 as the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, followed later by Connecticut and Iowa, Vermont has arguably been a leading trailblazer in civil and human rights.
In 2000, Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions between same-sex couples, which awarded some, but not all, rights of heterosexual partnerships to homosexual partnerships.
It was not until 2007 that the state legislature first proposed the idea of allowing gay and lesbian Vermonters the right to marry, creating a committee to research potential benefits and drawbacks of legalizing marriage for all residents.
Two years later, the Green Mountain State became the first to legalize same-sex marriage as the direct result of the legislature’s vote after Congress and the House of Representatives overrode Vt. Gov. James Douglas’ veto.
The newly passed same-sex marriage bill, effective Sep. 1, has had strong opposition as well as support. Organizations like the grassroots group Take Back Vermont and the National Organization for Marriage considered the decision a defeat. The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force considered the bill-passing a victory.
The difference in opinion exists on the Castleton campus, as well, however a random sampling of students reported a staggering 83 out of 100 who agreed with Vermont legislature’s decision to allow gay and lesbian marriage.
“I think [gays and lesbians] should have the same rights as everyone else. It’s two people in love. That should be the only thing that matters,” said Shaftsbury freshman Tiela Robert.
“I don’t think gay marriage should have been an issue in the first place. That shows a lot about our culture, but at the same time, it shows what we’ve moved into,” said Justin Morris, a senior from St. Albans. “The term ‘marriage’ doesn’t bother me, but I have a friend who is very religious and has a problem using [the word marriage] because he thinks it’s sacred to a man and a woman.”
Bondville’s Jay Schwartz echoes this sentiment.
“I believe the sanctity of marriage should be between a man and a woman,” said Schwartz. “I think that rights afforded by civil unions should equal those of marriage, but they should remain civil unions.”
Other students like Whiting’s Matthew Babcock and Enosburg Falls resident Justin Jackson have a hard time concretely agreeing or disagreeing.
“My uncle is gay, so it’s hard for me to not support [same-sex marriage],” said Babcock. “I think the rights should be there, but for me, since I’m not in that situation, it still feels unnatural. I’m kind of on the fence about it.”
Jackson discussed feelings of indifference about the topic of gay and lesbian marriages itself, but felt relieved at the notion of the state government focusing its attention elsewhere.
“I think that these issues should be focused on in times of economic prosperity, not economic despair,” said Jackson. “I do think the outcome was a positive thing, but I’m more glad that the issue is no longer jamming up legislature. I wished we had prioritized a little better.”
For Randolph native Ray Boule, the news is more personal.
Boule, who will process in May of this year as a Dec. 2008 graduate, is an out gay man who has long struggled with the fact that his home state has neglected to view him as a first-class citizen.
“I’m extremely glad and impressed that our Congress here in Vermont stood up to the governor. We seemed to settle for civil unions, which had me worried, but I’m glad they realized it wasn’t enough and true quality wouldn’t occur until this next step was taken.”
Boule went on to stress the importance that terminology holds in sending the message that all residents are able to declare their love for one another under the same institution.
“This is the first time I truly feel accepted on a legal level in this state,” said Boule. “It feels great!