Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Difference 10 Years Can Make

As the Vermont legislature contemplates allowing gay couples to marry, with a vote expected soon, the Burlington Free Press has published an editorial in favor of it. This in itself isn't extraordinary since newspaper editorial pages all over VT have been expressing support for marriage equality. What's extraordinary is comparing this editorial with the Free Press editorial from 10 years ago. Instead of trying to hide their former stance, they're actually brave enough to say how wrong they were. Goes to show that opinion can evolve, particularly when people learn firsthand that allowing gay couples to marry is a lot more dull and a lot less scary than they expected. Most importantly, it represents the societal shift that's taken place over the past decade, one that is likely to continue even as a shrinking core of opponents to marriage equality become more firmly entrenched in their views.

Excerpts from the editorial:

In an April 1999 editorial, the Free Press editorial board wrongly warned Vermonters against gay marriage. The years since then have proven our position to be unfounded.

Ten years ago, as the case that would eventually lead to Vermont adopting civil unions was making its way through the courts, we argued that our laws discriminate when a valid reason is found to do so, giving the 21-year drinking age as an example. We also argued that marriage was not a right.

In the 1999 editorial we spoke of the need to bridge the cultural divide to reach a consensus if we were to embark on such a major change to a fundamental social institution. We went so far as to warn that becoming the only state to allow same-sex marriage would make Vermont a target hostile to the idea, solemnly predicting, “there will be violence.” That prediction of course was pure nonsense.

Vermont’s experience with civil unions since 2000 has shown us that people are more than ready to accept the idea of two people of the same gender should receive legal recognition for a committed relationship. The world as we knew it hardly changed at all for the larger population, though it did for that portion seeking a measure of equality. The fact that civil unions are so unremarkable today is perhaps the best testimony to their acceptance.

We repeat these words from the 1999 editorial that did make sense: “Vermont boasts a long and proud heritage of civil rights and social tolerance” — and we call for adding marriage equality to that heritage.

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