(HOST) The passage of a marriage equality bill in New York last week
reminded commentator David Moats of the long and arduous struggle for
gay rights in America and the crucial role
played by Vermont.
Depending on how old you are, your reaction to the new gay marriage law
in New York may be either “Ho-hum” or “I’d never thought I’d see the
If you’re 20 years old now, that means that when Vermont
was passing through its tumultuous struggle over civil unions you were
nine years old. When it comes to gay rights, most people that age are
inclined to wonder what’s the big deal, why shouldn’t gay people be
allowed to get married like everyone else?
If you’re older, you remember. You remember how the battle over gay rights seemed like Armageddon each step of the way.
pushing for gay rights took the long view. They knew it wasn’t
Armageddon. They had the faith that over time people would learn,
people would begin to understand.
It may be hard to remember now,
but 19 years ago Vermont was embroiled in a battle over a civil rights
law that said gay and lesbian Vermonters could not be fired or denied
housing because of their sexual orientation. Today such a law falls
into the category of “no-brainer,” but back then backers of the law
faced vicious attacks and political retribution. Every advance of gay
rights was met with the argument that to legitimize homosexuality would
be to undermine morality and threaten the family. Eventually, though,
the right to marry was seen as a way to promote families and to
encourage committed, loving relationships.
It’s been a long
process of education. We’ve become acquainted with gay and lesbian
neighbors, friends, brothers, and cousins; and we’ve recognized what the
Supreme Court understood as our “common humanity.” Two years ago
Vermont took the step of approving marriage equality when the
Legislature voted to override the veto of a marriage bill by Governor
Vermont was a pioneer when it approved civil unions in
2000, but since then civil unions had become the conservative
alternative for those who wanted to seem tolerant but who could not yet
embrace full equality.
The outcome of the vote on the marriage
bill in Vermont was one of the most dramatic historic events I’ve ever
witnessed. The Senate had already voted to override the governor’s
veto, and the final decision was up to the House. Everyone knew the
vote would be close.
One by one, the roll was called. Then, when
the speaker announced the results of the vote, one had the sense of
One second there was no freedom to marry in
Vermont. Then, when the speaker had said the words – the bill had
passed – there was the briefest instant when the realization set in that
marriage equality, at that very moment, had become the law.
The struggle in New York was epochal in the same way. But now it’s the law.
Young people may wonder what’s the big deal.
Older people know.