Pride Day 2020
To the editor:
On April 25, 2000, the Vermont House of Representatives passed a bill that granted same-sex couples the opportunity to enjoy the rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage through “civil union.” This was in response to a Vermont Supreme Court ruling the previous December that such couples were entitled to these rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage under the “equal benefits” clause of the Vermont Constitution. Mine was one of 76 votes that finalized passage of the bill and sent it to Gov. Howard Dean, who signed it. Vermont thus became the first state in the union to recognize the human and civil rights of same-sex couples.
Twenty years later, the concept of “civil unions” seems quaint; same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States, and we, as a people, have accepted the fact that people have different sexual orientations and identities. This is remarkable progress!
But let us not forget that gay and lesbian people were persecuted, tortured and killed for many years before they achieved civil rights — and their struggle continues to this day. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on June 15, 2020, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identification is another momentous achievement. But it is not the end of the struggle.
In the legislative hearings on Vermont’s civil unions bill, we heard heartbreaking testimony from women and men who were denied hospital visitation to their dying partners and then were not even told where their partners were buried; from couples who lost custody of their children because of their sexual orientation; from widows and widowers who were denied pension and social security benefits — the list of rights denied is a long one.
So when we celebrate Pride Day on June 20, 2020, let us salute the courage of the men and women who risked everything to fight for their civil and human rights in the courts, in the streets and in public discourse so that they and millions of their peers could be free and equal citizens of our great republic. Those of us who have not experienced discrimination and oppression cannot fully apprehend their suffering, but we can exult in their triumph, which magnifies the freedom and human dignity of all of us.