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Kalish: Marriage Equality

For those involved in the fight for marriage equality, the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges is a victory in a long-fought, hard-won battle for equal rights - and the culmination of years of work.For those opposed, it’s seemed like a seismic shift in cultural values that happened virtually overnight.

For those paying attention though, it’s just been a matter of time – ever since Justice Kennedy wrote, in 2013, that same-sex marriage is an “acknowledgement of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed … worthy of dignity … equal with all other marriages.”

And that refusing to recognize such marriages “humiliate[d] tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples… mak[ing] it even more difficult for [them] to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community…”

At the time United States v. Windsor struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, 12 states recognized same-sex marriage. One year later, that number was 20. By spring of 2015 it was 37. And now it’s all 50.

It’s important, though, to remember how the fight for marriage equality started… and how in many ways, it all began here.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court decided the case of Baker v. State. It unanimously ruled that Vermont’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the Common Benefits Clause of the state constitution. Although Vermont was the second state to rule so (the first was Hawaii, in 1993), it was the first to see legal unions between same-sex couples.

The Court’s ruling in Baker v. State led to Vermont’s Civil Union law, in 2000. As many of us remember, passing this law was hard … it tore at communities throughout the state. Lawns and bumpers bore signs saying “Take Back Vermont.” Some thought we were creating wounds that might not heal.

But they did heal. And, as Vermont became a destination for couples all over the country wanting to have a state officially recognize their love and their families, we felt pride.

Three states came before us via court decisions – Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. But in 2009, Vermont became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage in its popularly elected legislature.

Now, just 6 years later, marriage equality is the rule of law across the nation. We’ve just witnessed history. It’s this generation’s Loving v. Virginia, the case that said laws prohibiting interracial marriage were invalid. And as we celebrate, we can be proud of Vermont’s role in making this history a reality.

Julie Kalish is a Vermont attorney and Lecturer at Dartmouth College in the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. She is a board member for Vermont ACLU. She lives in Norwich.
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