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
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
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
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.