Vermont OKs same-sex partner rights
On Dec. 20, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that same-sex
couples must be provided the same legal rights and recognition
as heterosexual married couples. In rallies and celebrations
around the country, the ruling was hailed as a historic
milestone in the struggle for full equality and civil
The state's high court ordered the legislature to carry out
its ruling quickly. Vermont must either establish a system of
domestic partnership that is identical to marriage or allow
same-sex couples to marry.
Because the ruling was based on the Vermont state
constitution's guarantee of equal treatment, it is final. There
is no legal appeal.
That does not mean, however, that the road forward will be
The ideological right wing and reactionary religious
elements are enraged at the ruling. If they mount a fight
against the decision it's sure to be funded by the right-wing
of the capitalist class.
So, although Gov. Howard Dean and leading legislators said
they would comply with the court's order, once the anti-gay
forces weigh in anything could happen. A great struggle to push
all the way to complete victory--in Vermont and nationally--may
be in the offing.
Paula Ettelbrick of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Policy Institute called the Vermont decision "a ground-breaking
ruling," that she said represents a germinal shift "in the way
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families will forever be
But she added that the movement will have to "be prepared to
protect the safety and sanctity of [our] families on the
streets" as well as in the courts.
A breathtaking rate of change
Despite a torrential rainfall, New Yorkers gathered in
Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village for a Dec. 20 celebration
rally. James Loney of the group Marriage Equality commented
about how much things have changed since the modern movement
for lesbian/gay/bi and trans liberation began right there, in a
battle with police at the Stonewall bar, a little over 30 years
Considering that the oppression faced by lesbian, gay, bi
and trans people was systematically institutionalized over the
course of many centuries, it is being overturned at a
breathtaking rate. This proves the power of struggle.
Once, not so many years ago, the weight of law, religion,
social custom, convention and attitudes that for so long kept
lesbian, gay, bi and trans people locked in the closet seemed
Now it's all changing fast. Why has popular consciousness
shifted so swiftly? Because a mass movement has brought
millions into the streets time and again to demand equality and
justice. Backwardness, bigotry and all the bosses' billions are
no match for that.
Activists say the challenge now is to build on the Vermont
victory and push all the way to complete equality in marriage
Chris Tebbits of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force
told Workers World: "We're thrilled with the Supreme Court's
recognition of our constitutional rights vis-à-vis the
benefits that flow from marriage. But our interpretation is
that the only way to offer us the full equality they're calling
for is through marriage itself.
"Domestic partnership would be an equivalent of separate but
Saying that "something great is going to come of this,"
Tebbits predicted that the unequivocal right for same-sex
couples to marry will come soon, in Vermont and around the
He said Vermont Supreme Court Justice Denise Johnson had
"hit the nail on the head." Johnson concurred with the ruling
on equal rights--then wrote a minority opinion chiding the
court for failing to simply order Vermont county clerks to
begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Johnson commented, "In 1948, when the California Supreme
Court struck down a state law prohibiting the issuance of a
license authorizing interracial marriages, the Court did not
suspend its judgment to allow the legislature an opportunity to
enact a separate licensing scheme for interracial
Workers World asked Tebbits about the "Defense of Marriage"
Act. Tebbits said, "Some day when lesbian and gay folks can get
married in Vermont or wherever--not an if but a when--and then
go home to their states and are denied that recognition, the
constitutionality of DOMA will be tested."
DOMA withholds over 1,000 federal rights--including Social
Security survivor benefits, tax benefits and much more--from
same-sex couples who get married in any state. In addition, 30
states have passed legislation barring recognition of same-sex
marriages performed in another state.
A struggle is under way in California to defeat a March
ballot measure that would bar recognition of a same-sex
marriage performed in another state.
Every current presidential candidate appealing for gay and
lesbian votes supported DOMA when it was passed in 1996.
President Bill Clinton signed it.
Clinton also instituted the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy,
which has resulted in more witch hunts against lesbian, gay, bi
and trans people in the military than even the pre-Clinton
anti-gay ban did.
Recent exposes about the extent of anti-gay harassment and
violence in the armed forces--especially at the Army trial of a
soldier in the gay-bashing murder of Pfc. Barry Winchell--have
prompted public outrage. The president acknowledged the failure
of "DonAsk" in a Dec. 11 interview, and again in a Dec. 16
meeting with a group of gay Democrats. Yet he still refused to
remove the gay ban, instead merely ordering a "review" of
conditions on military bases.
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