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Michael Mello

Legalizing Gay Marriage
Michael Mello

Michael Mello debates Legalizing Gay Marriage

A Q&A with the Temple University Press author examines the issues at the heart of this hot topic

Q: Legalizing Gay Marriage is unlike other "gay marriage" books in that it focuses mainly on the civil union decision in Vermont. Your book also includes information on the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts. Why did you focus on these particular aspects of the issue?
A: Vermont and Massachusetts define the range of options: a marriage-lite system, versus full-fledged marriage. And Vermont was the first battleground, while Massachusetts is the present battleground.

Q: You describe civil unions as a compromise, suggesting that civil unions were created to please everyone on both sides of the issue and yet, they ended up pleasing no one. Can you elaborate on why this was the case?
A: The rancor of the battles left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Gays and Lesbians wanted real victory while marriage homophobes wanted nothing. What is more, most Vermonters didn't want to think about the issue at all.

Q: You describe many cases of gay or lesbian couples wanting to get married. Which one do you think is the most interesting, or significant in this huge debate?
A: Nina Beck's story—she was one of the six people in the Baker vs. State case. Ms. Beck and her partner Stacy Jolles were together for almost a decade. When Ms. Beck was pregnant, and complications developed that resulted in her son Noah being born with a heart defect, Ms. Jolles was denied entry into the emergency room to be with her partner and their child.

Q: What is fascinating in Legalizing Gay Marriage are the letters to the newspaper editors volleying the issue back and forth. From the impassioned letter by Sharon Underwood, the mother of a gay son, to the opposition's campaign to "Take Back Vermont," the impact of these two warring groups was incredible. Can you discuss this "war that happened on the ground?"
A: "Take Back Vermont" was an organized political campaign to defeat civil unions in the legislatures. The letters were the grassroots manipulation of Take Back Vermont's efforts. While some letters supported civil unions, the bitterness of the opponents' letters was stunning. The net effect was an atmosphere of hate in which gay couples I know felt threatened, isolated, and despised.

Q: You say that the public backlash to Baker vs. State forced you to think more deeply about the issues, and that without this you would not have written this book. Why were you so drawn to this cause?
A: The battle was exploding all around me. It was a battle about law and I'm a schoolteacher. But what got me into the conflict wasn't abstract. This controversy was about real people, real people I know and care about—friends, students, neighbors, faculty, colleagues. That, by the way, was how I got sucked into capital punishment issue 22 years ago. It's the people, not the cause.

Q: There are all kinds of permutations with family these days. Queer parents, and cases of unmarried straight couples having children. A 50% divorce rate for heterosexual couples, and the first same-sex divorce case. Do you feel that the sanctity of marriage has benefited from the Baker vs. State decision?
A: Heterosexual marriage is no weaker in Vermont or in Massachusetts because its not a zero sum game—my marriage loses nothing by admitting gay couples. Heterosexuals take marriage for granted; it's good for us to see gay couples fight for admission, because it reminds us how important this right of marriage really is. Every election year, I remind my students about those who died in the 1960's to secure the vote for African Americans.


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