Vermont Freedom to Marry is saying goodbye after two decades of work to achieve marriage equality. Sheryl Rapée-Adams, VFMTF board chair, made the announcement Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.
As the fight for LGBT-equality in the U.S. and around the world continues, Vermont’s leadership role in the marriage-equality movement provides a hopeful example of what can be accomplished when people join together with determination and perseverance to gain civil rights.
The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force formed in 1996 with the mission of achieving civil marriage equality in Vermont. At the time, marriage equality did not exist in any nation in the world, and the concept of same-sex couples having the freedom to marry was foreign to many. Fast forward to 2015 when marriage equality is a reality not only in Vermont but across the U.S.
In the 20 years between VFMTF’s formation and the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to nationwide marriage equality, Vermont milestones marked the progress of the marriage-equality movement. Those milestones include the landmark 1999 Vermont Supreme Court Baker v. Vermont ruling, which found that same-sex couples in the state were entitled to the same benefits and protections as opposite-sex couples; the 2000 civil union legislation that was the first of its kind in the U.S.; and the 2009 override of Governor Douglas’s veto of the marriage bill, making Vermont the first state to successfully enact marriage equality via the legislative process.
Behind each of these equality milestones was the work of Vermont Freedom to Marry, its volunteers and supporters across the state.
“Vermont Freedom to Marry was there every step of the way,” said Rapée-Adams. “From when Beth Robinson and Susan Murray cofounded the organization to today, all of the work was aimed toward ensuring that Vermont same-sex couples and their families have the same legal protections and respect as all other Vermont families.”
VFMTF’s mission reached the finish line in 2015 when Mary Bonauto, who was co-counsel with Beth Robinson and Susan Murray on Baker v. Vermont, took the argument for marriage equality to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.
“Even after Vermont achieved in-state marriage equality in 2009, we felt it was important to keep standing for the principle that equality shouldn’t depend on where you live,” added Rapée Adams. “When the marriages of Vermont same-sex couples received federal recognition after DOMA was struck down in 2013, that was one step closer. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of nationwide marriage equality, our goal was truly met. With the elimination of the unfair patchwork of marriage laws across the U.S., families of married same-sex Vermont couples were no longer under threat beyond state lines. We knew then it was time to begin archiving our history and, most importantly, to say thank you to all of Vermont Freedom to Marry’s supporters over the years.”
Rapée-Adams continued, saying that Vermont Freedom to Marry is immensely grateful to all those LGBT community members and allies who participated in large ways and small towards its mission fulfillment, whether that participation involved being a voice for equality at county fairs and town forums, writing letters to the editor, contacting legislators, donating generously to fund the work, attending and testifying at public hearings, expressing solidarity through stickers and buttons, having conversations with friends and family with differing views, or simply being visible as supporters of equal recognition for all families. Hearts and minds were won, one at a time, through all these efforts.
VFMTF is also grateful to all those legislators and political leaders who supported equality, during both the 2000 civil union fight and the push for marriage in 2009. In 2000, a number of legislators voted their conscience and faced harsh political consequences in the next election for doing so. Their brave stance for justice put them on the wrong side of their electorate at the time, but on the right side of history: In 2010, nearly every pro-equality legislator who ran again went on to win reelection.
Finally, VFMTF is grateful to its cofounders, Beth Robinson and Susan Murray, whose vision of fairness for all Vermont families set the path to equality, and to the Baker v. Vermont plaintiffs who became the public face of the movement.
The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force work began in a Middlebury law office and with a local group of core volunteers who remain active to this day. With the disposition of Vermont Freedom to Marry’s historical archive to Middlebury College Special Collections, the successful team effort has come full circle and arrived home.
Vermont Freedom to Marry was the nonprofit resource for marriage equality in Vermont that spearheaded the successful effort to secure the freedom to marry for the state’s same-sex couples.