When a jubilant Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) — one of Vermont's first openly gay lawmakers, who led the charge for civil unions and same-sex marriage —strode up the steps of Burlington's City Hall and, with a flourish, popped open a rainbow-colored umbrella, he captured the mood of the crowd before him.
A large group gathered on short notice Friday evening to celebrate the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the Constitution. People hugged, cried, and wished one another, "Happy Decision Day."
"Today, love won," said Kim Fountain, executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont.
Several people reflected on Vermont's pioneering efforts — first allowing civil unions and then becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage legislatively.
House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) recalled weeping after lawmakers successfully overrode Governor Jim Douglas's veto of Vermont's gay marriage bill. "I went back to my office and just felt the release of having done something so monumental," he said.
Lippert remembered state lawmakers who "gave their political lives" for the cause. He said he received a message Friday morning from John Edwards, a Republican and a retired state trooper from Swanton who lost his seat after voting for civil unions. Lippert also recounted meeting more than two decades ago at the same location — City Hall Park — for a gay pride rally, in spite of people threatening to throw rocks. Referencing President Barack Obama's remarks today, he praised the "anonymous acts of courage" that contributed to the court ruling.
celebrating the ruling in City Hall Park
Plenty of other trailblazers who were anything but anonymous were also in attendance. Among them were at least three of the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit Baker v. Vermont, which prompted the civil union legislation: Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles, now a married couple, and Peter Harrigan, whose husband Stan Baker is the case's namesake.
Dressed in purple, Barb Dozetos, editor of the now-defunct gay newspaper, Out in the Mountains, remembered covering the civil union debate in the Statehouse. For her, back then, "It was the only thing to cover."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Bill Lippert was Vermont's first openly gay lawmaker. Ron Squires, elected to the House of Representatives in 1990, holds that distinction.