Okay, picture this for a moment.
It's one year from today, April 19, 2001. Little Vermont is being splashed across the national media big-time. No, it's not about the passage of the new civil unions bill. That was last year's story. It's 2001 now, and the story today is the devastating impact the new same-sex marriage law has had on life in Vermont as we once knew it. Turns out, it's much, much worse than the Bingo Bishop, Rabid Randall Terry and Rep. Nancy "Gimme" Sheltra even imagined.
"Traditional Marriage Under Attack — The Crisis in Vermont" is how CBS News slugs it, with a Desert Storm-type soundtrack in the background. And Dan Rather reports live from Montpeculiar, Vermont, with our gleaming golden dome over his shoulder:
"The following report, I warn you," says Dan, "contains some disturbing information and unsettling images that may not be suitable for all viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.
"Good evening from Vermont, a small, usually quiet state, that has almost overnight turned into a frightening social-science experiment gone awry. Since legislation passed the Vermont Legislature last year chat extends all the legal benefits of civil marriage to same-sex couples, traditional marriage in Vermont has literally, like a cookie, started to crumble. We begin with a report from Elizabeth Kaliden, live on the streets of Burlington.
“Yes, Dan, I’m standing on Cherry Street across from Filene’s, just outside Family Court. And that line you see behind me, snaking out the front door and up the block, is the proof that legalizing gay and lesbian unions has taken a mighty toll on thousands of traditional marriages in the Green Mountains. These people, Dan, all of them, are lining up to file for divorce and, the local police tell us, it’s been like this for weeks and the numbers keep growing.”
“That’s incredible, Elizabeth. Are you sure it’s the same-sex marriage law that Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signed that caused all this?”
“Absolutely, Dan. Admittedly, there are some rough edges, a little spousal abuse here, a little domestic violence there. Normally, in fact, about 50 percent of traditional marriages have been failing in Vermont as well as around the country. Most divorced people, however, remarry, so the jewelry business continues to thrive. But here in Vermont, Dan, we’re now finding that the divorce rate is suddenly escalating to 60, 70 and, as of 9 o’clock this morning, Dan, 79 percent of Vermont traditional marriages are failing. On the rocks. Down the drain. Kaput.
“That’s extraordinary, Elizabeth. Has the new governor, what’s her name? …”
"Ruth Dwyer, Dan, Republican Ruth Dwyer."
"Yes, Ruth Dwyer. Has Gov. Dwyer called out the National Guard yet?"
"Well, she's thought of it, Dan, but unfortunately for Gov. Dwyer, the Vermont Guard is simply unable to muster enough troops. That's because the citizen soldiers are also affected by the civil-unions legislation, and several of the people behind me told us they were members of the guard, both men and women. They would not identify their units — just name, rank and serial numbers."
"Amazing, patriotism lives on."
"Right, Dan. And for the most part, these heterosexual victims were happily married up until last year. But then, as they say, something started to change in their traditional marriages. Something they had no control over. Some, Dan, were distraught and unable to compose themselves for even a brief interview. Others stared blankly into space. They couldn't speak a word. It was like trying to interview victims of an atomic bomb blast a mile from ground zero. We remind you once more, viewer discretion is advised. Now, in their own words."
Charlie Clark, Colchester — "Me and the wife had 32 years in. That's 32 wonderful years. Two boys and a girl. A traditional marriage, you know. Christmas, Easter. Fourth of July and deer season.
"But I'll never forget the day Gov. Howard Dean, excuse me, former Gov. Howard Dean signed the bill. Something changed, overnight. I could feel it, you know? Down there.
"Look, since the prostate surgery, I'd been taking the Viagra Falls pills — got 'em at half-price on one of those Bernie Sanders bus trips to Montreal. We even tried a little pot and played the old Dead albums. But the same-sex marriage thing was always in the back of my mind. There’s just something about picturing two guys with their hands on the knife cutting the first slice of wedding cake.
“Hey, I’m a native Vermonter. My folks milked cows. We go to church. This was something bad, real bad, like the Interstate. The missus all of a sudden stopped wearing the frillies to bed. Our love life went South overnight, if you know what I mean. It was the damn civil unions and Howard Dean and all them New Yorkers coming up here that did it, goddammit!”
“Dan, Mr. Clark spoke for the vast majority of the people we talked to on the courthouse line in Burlington today. Some said they’ve been waiting in line several days. The court system here and at court houses across Vermont is being crushed by this phenomenon. They’re all backed up. The state police have brought in porta-potties. And the Red Cross is providing food and medical services. But it's a real disaster, Dan, and the new Vermont civil-union law for homosexual couples is getting the blame."
"Elizabeth, are you sure the new law is the cause of all this societal turmoil? As we used to say back when I led the media investigation of the Watergate scandal, where's the smoking gun?"
"It's in their faces, Dan. Their hollow faces. The vast majority said their traditional Christian marriages simply could not withstand the devastating impact the new civil-unions law brought with it. They blame the former Democratic governor. They blame the once Democrat-controlled legislature. They blame the supreme court. Some, Dan, even blame Bill Buckner."
Charity Aiken, Shelburne — "George and I were going on 25 years. We never had to deal with homosexuality before. I mean, he had an aunt who was a school teacher, but she kept it in her closet. They don't have to wave it in everybody's face. I mean, the Bible says what it says for a reason other than selling books and making evangelists rich, doesn't it?
"During the legislature, George had even gone down and testified to those people. He got two minutes. But they didn't listen, he said. They were against God, he said.
"A week later, instead of coming to bed, he'd stay down in the basement to all hours watching the tape of the 1986 Red Sox World Series debacle. Over and over. That's the one where Bill Buckner opened his legs just right for the grounder to get through. George started to miss work. And he started drinking. He'd never been a drinker before. And he'd be yelling at the top of his lungs in the middle of the night, awful things like 'Buckner, you're a faggot!' I was so scared I locked the bedroom door."
"Why didn't you call the cops?"
"He is a cop."
"Dan, just another frightening tale of what the controversial new Vermont same-sex marriage law has done. No one's been spared."
"Thanks, Elizabeth Kaliden, live in Burlington, looking good. Next, we'll go live to the Oval Office to find out what President George W. Bush has to say about the Crisis in Vermont. And then, Pat Robertson on Monica Lewinsky's Vermont connection. And will the Yankees offer Elian Gonzalez a contract if O.J. Simpson doesn't adopt him? But, first these important messages from our favorite multi-national pharmaceutical companies on how to cope with everything and anything.
Can’t Blame Clavelle — Burlington’s Progressive mayor, Peter Clavelle, was nowhere in sight last week. In fact he was far, far away from beautiful Burlap, across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. And what happens when he’s gone?
Ben & Jerry’s seels out to a freaking huge multi-national!
“It sucks,” said Mayor Moonie Monday night during a break in the City Council’s debate on reforming the city’s leash law for pooches. “It puts meaning in the cliché ‘money talks,’” said Clavelle. “It’s very symbolic. The fact is, we don’t control our economy. Wall Street’s calling the shots.”
Clavelle learned of the Ben & Jerry's sale while attending the 20th Annual Jerusalem Conference of Mayors. Fifty-four mayors from 34 nations spent a week getting a street-level, up-close and personal view of one of the world's foremost political/ ethnic/religious powder kegs. Diversity, i.e. living together in peace, is a worldwide challenge, and it was a topic he was able to bat around with the mayor of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, among others.
"In Israel," Clavelle told Seven Days, "the conflict exists at multiple levels. It makes Ireland's community conflict seem piddly." Not to mention other pressing political battles closer to home, like choosing an operator for a downtown supermarket.
What's That Smile? — Yes, that was a smile on the face of Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders Monday. The reason for his delight?
The protest demonstrations in Washington, D.C., targeting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The protesters from labor unions, environmental organiza-tions and human rights groups were Bernie's people, he acknowledged, no question about it. In fact, you can download from his Web site Ol’ Bernardo's "Sermon on the Mount" speech he delivered last week to 15,000 screaming, cheering Teamsters on Capitol Hill.
Bernie was talking about the IMF even when he was mayor of Burlington. When he first went to Congress a decade ago, he recalled, most members didn't have a clue what the IMF was, who ran it and what it did. Sanders deserves credit for his determined educational effort.
"The IMF for many, many years operated in secrecy," said Sanders. "The IMF was literally running dozens of poor countries around the world. Nobody understood the role of the IMF." The more people talk about this issue, said Bernie, “the more people who say the international financial organizations should represent American workers and the poor people of the Third World rather than the multinational corporations — the more that discussion takes place, the better off the global economy will be.”
Funny how when Bernie said the exact same thing 10, 15, 20 years ago everyone thought it was radical stuff. Today it’s finally getting mainstream, as more and more people get hip to what globalization is all about.
Media Notes — While lawmakers and just plain readers continue to wait for The Burlington Free Press to take an editorial stand on the civil-unions legislation, others have been less timid. Let’s add The Miami Herald to the growing list of respected U.S. newspapers that have published favorable-to-glowing pro-civil unions editorials.
The Vermont Legislature, writes the Miami Herald "has struck the right balance in settling the wrenching question of marriage between gay or lesbian partners...Vermont has acknowledged the simple justice of equal treatment. It's unfortunate that those-who feel threatened by equality prevail — for the moment — in the Florida Legislature."
Wow! Add that to similar laudatory editorial sentiments expressed from Arizona to Chicago to Minneapolis to Washington, D.C., and the Big Apple. Rather than a laughingstock, brave little Vermont is the leader on the front lines of today's fight for human rights and the recognition of what Chief Justice Jeff Amestoy called "our common humanity." Hear, hear!