Excerpted with permission from the Rutland Daily Herald.An old adage reads, "Good things come in small packages." Vermont is clear proof. Ever since the Vermont Supreme Court decision of Dec. 20, the eyes of the nation are upon our state.Many Americans consider the court's decision a legal milestone and a cultural turning point. But also, not surprisingly, Montpelier is being flooded with thousands of out-of-state letters filled with inflammatory rhetoric and spurious homophobic assertions, many of them written by Christians who use the Bible much as a drunk does a lamppost--more for support than for illumination.I am reminded of the wise conclusion of William Penn: "To be ferocious in religion is to be ferociously irreligious."Readers will remember the court ruled that the common benefits and protection that flow from marriages under Vermont law must be extended to same-sex couples but left it to the Legislature to craft a remedy for the discrimination the court had deemed unconstitutional.On the day following the ruling, an editorial in the Rutland Herald suggested that "the two obvious remedies are to broaden the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, or to create another form of legally sanctioned domestic partnership that guarantees the same benefits."It occurs to me that all Vermonters should take time out from the clamor of life to become for a while as reflective as possible. Thoughtful conversations need to take place in every family, in every church, temple, and mosque, in every field, factory, and office. Our representatives in Montpelier must hear from us, but only the most carefully thought out reasons for our positions. To be avoided at all costs is the solace of opinion without the pain of thought.For example, many letters sent our legislators enjoin them to remember "the sanctity of traditional marriage." Yet few traditions have changed more over the years than marital ones. For centuries, parents knew best--marriages were arranged. For an even longer period of time, husbands had all property rights including their wives and daughters themselves. Until very recently interracial marriages often were forbidden, and Bible readers should recall that the early biblical practice of polygamy, although later abandoned, is nowhere in the Bible explicitly forbidden.In short, with so many traditions, we need both to recover and recover from them. All of which is not to take away from the sanctity of marriage, for few things are more sacred than an avowed commitment between two people to an intimate, lifelong relationship.
People who say "same -sex marriage makes me uncomfortable" should probably remind themselves that comfort has nothing to do with the issue and that, often as not, change is discomforting. I think those of us who are straight people really need to sit down quietly and compare our own discomfort with the discomfort of gays and lesbians who for year shave been excluded, isolated, silenced, abused, and even killed.The argument that gays threaten to destroy heterosexual marriage is an assertion only, not an argument. If anyone destroys marriage, it's married people, not gays.Finally, I think we need to examine carefully the position shared by many thoughtful folk who are anxious that whatever the legislators in Montpelier do it must be everything as good as marriage."In 1896 in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court found "separate but equal" to be constitutional in educating black and white children. But in 1954 the court ruled that "separate" inevitably meant unequal. Would not the same inequality prove true were civil marriage reserved for straight couples only while gay and lesbian unions were designated otherwise? Further, if for all of us marriage is a profound symbol, and for some of us a sacred one, what right have straight people to deny it to gays and lesbians for whom it is altogether as meaningful?I think gays are right in insisting that marriage by any other name just isn't marriage. And isn't it ironic that Vermont today recognizes gay and lesbian families, but has yet to legalize the marriages which generally precede the formation of families?By recalling "our common humanity" the Supreme Court reminded us that all human relationships be judged by their inner worth, not by their outward appearance. That being the case, I believe the state should not hesitate to offer gays and lesbians the same civil marriage available to straight couples. Certainly the legal matter of extending rights would be vastly simplified if the marriage language were uniform.
As a male I consider myself at best a recovering chauvinist. As a white person I am a recovering racist, and as a straight person a recovering heterosexist. To women, African-Americans, gays, and lesbians, I am deeply grateful for stretching my mind, deepening my heart, and convincing me that no human being should ever be patient with prejudice at the expense of its victims.