Ellen Andersen

Reflecting on Vermont

Filed By Ellen Andersen | April 07, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: marriage, Vermont

I'm a little bit shaky inside right now. Part of it is the whiplash that comes from moving from a state (Indiana) where LGBT people have been fighting a rearguard action to defeat an anti-marriage amendment to a state where the legislature is actually supportive of marriage equality. Still getting used to that.

The bigger part of my internal shakes at the moment comes from the awesome impact of having my common humanity recognized by my government. And not even by the courts (as grateful as I am to the Supreme Court of Iowa and all the courts that preceded it). Courts are the venues where the frenzy of public opinion is at least supposed to take a back seat to the reason of the law. But the legislature embodies the reasoned voice of the people. They're not bound to explain and justify their votes in the ways that courts are. They can vote any damn way they please. And two-thirds of the House -- and more than two-thirds of the Senate -- of my new state have finally been convinced that same-sex couples can not legitimately, can not fairly, can not reasonably, be segregated into an institution designed to award them formal legal equality while maintaining our cultural inequality.

A number of really thoughtful scholars (Gayle Rubin, Carol Johnson, and Jyl Josephson, to name just a few) argue that in our culture, marriage is the epitome of citizenship. Maybe it shouldn't be, and I'm very sympathetic to Nancy Polikoff's concerns about the undue centrality of marriage. But for the forseeable future, it is. And so one way to think about what the Vermont Legislature has just done is to say that it has finally accorded full citizenship to LGBT people, becoming only the second legislature in the nation to do so (behind California) and the first to override a governor's veto.

The right to civil marriage does not end the problems faced by LGB and T people, of course. But it's a heckofa step in the right direction.

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While I certainly agree with the sentiment, I strongly disagree with your definition of American citizenship. A couple can go anywhere in the world where their relationship is recognized, get married, and have that marriage recognized at home assuming their relationship is recognized there, but if one is still denied the right to make a living, maintain housing, and access public accommodations as is the case FOR LGB and especially T people in many states (like Mass., where gays can marry but there's no anti-discrimination protection at all for transgender people), that's still very much a second or maybe even third-class citizenship.

Vermont and Iowa are important victories and worth celebrating, but real equality is about far more than just the right to say "I do." and file joint tax returns.

Ellen Andersen Ellen Andersen | April 7, 2009 2:12 PM

Rebecca, I quite agree with you that the right to marry doesn't end the problems faced by LGB and T people, and that for those without the ability to make a living, use public space safely, and secure decent housing, the right to marry is an inadequate victory. What I was trying to say, perhaps unsuccessfully, is that marriage is commonly treated as the epitome of citizenship in our society. THAT's a prime reason why it's guarded so fiercely. It confers a social status, above and beyond its legal status. I think the specter of citizenship underlies a lot of the debates about marriage and that there's a general, if implicit realization that it's harder to deny a whole host of other rights to people, once you've you've recognized them as being full citizens. Not impossible, but harder.

So I think having the right to marry advantages LGB people when arguing for nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws. I leave out T people here explicitly, since I think that most of the pro-equality conversation about marriage has suggested that gender and sexual orientation are fixed and immutable. That's a real problem because it tacitly gives judges and legislators (and employers and everyone else) to divide the world into "normal" gay people and "abnormal" transgender people.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 7, 2009 6:20 PM

Ellen: Congratulations and a great big hug to both of you. On this memorable day. I had not been near either the Internet nor a media outlet most of the day today, and when I came home, and heard the word "override", but not more, I figured the story was still about whether enough votes to override a veto that I wasn't aware had also taken place. My other half kept saying an override had indeed happened, I challanged that, and so our own celebration of your victory began with my having to eat an "I told you so, know-it-all" humble pie eating episode.

Meanwhile, back in Indiana......we'll, you know well how that is.....

I did find it funny that homocons were saying that going through the legislature was the proper way to attain marriage, as opposed to those activist judges. Don't conservatives dislike liberals and Democrats in general? Because that's who got this through.

Mostly they're responding now with some old-fashioned Vermont bashing since the judicial activists canard doesn't apply. But no matter what, if all their "will of the people" rhetoric has been true all this time, they should be hailing this event.

Ellen Andersen Ellen Andersen | April 8, 2009 12:14 PM

Ah, but Alex, legislative votes apparently no longer represent the will of the people. The only way to do so is through a popular vote. At least so say the homocon activists (to appropriate your word). Vermont's Constitution, of course, doesn't permit voter-initiated ballot measures, although it does permit "advisory" ballot measures, so long as they are initiated by the legislature. The homocons are screaming that the only legitimate course of action would have been for the legislature to initiate an advisory ballot process and then to acquiesce to the desires of the people as expressed in the vote.

I wonder if they think that advisory measures should be initiated before any legislative vote on any measure? I'm guessing not...