Ten year anniversary of civil unions in the US
July 1st, 2010
On July 1, 2000, Vermont’s civil unions law went into effect and for the first time, Americans could find a place in which their relationships had all the state law protections.
I remember this event. And at the time it was revolutionary, amazing.
After the disappointment in Hawaii, here was a state in which you could get married. Well… not married exactly, but close enough.
And, to me, this seemed like the solution. Let the straight folk have marriage as long as we got all the rights and privileges.
Of course, at the time I didn’t know that hospitals and schools and the local pool would just ignore civil unions, not knowing what they were or how to treat them. And we did not yet have the experience of people coming back from Canada and having their neighbors treat them differently because they were “really married.” But that all came later and at the time we were euphoric.
And we truly had good reason to be.
Vermont proved to the nation (though they were not listening well) that there was nothing to be feared from recognizing gay unions. The sky didn’t fall. Churches didn’t close. The state wasn’t destroyed by God’s wrath. And maple sap kept on rising in the trees. To folks other than us, this truly momentous occasion just wasn’t all that exciting.
And this lack of dramatic consequence no doubt played into the decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court to recognize full legal marriage in 2003 and to the dedication of the legislators not to thwart that decision.
And this too wasn’t shocking. Oh, yes a President campaigned against gay marriage, and states across the nation panicked and passed amendments to “protect” marriage from being destroyed by gays, but in Massachusetts heterosexual marriage thrived.
And soon there states who decided that they wanted to be part of the movement. Some started with minor recognition and limited provisions, but soon there were votes in the legislature to advance to marriage without courts demanding it. And, fittingly, in 2009 Vermont’s legislature became the first to do so.
So here we are ten years later, and the world is a different place.
We have five states (and the District of Columbia) with full marriage equality: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, and New Hampshire. And we have two more states, New York and Maryland, which will recognize the same-sex marriage conducted in those full equality states.
And others are on their way. Five more states have either civil unions or domestic partnerships that have all of the state benefits, responsibilities, and rights as marriage: New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. And by Tuesday, Governor Lingle will decide whether Hawaii will join them.
And there are some states who do not yet provide equal treatment to same-sex couples, but who do at least give the state’s recognition to their union: Colorado, Wisconsin, Maine, Rhode Island, and to a small extent Hawaii.
In ten years we have made tremendous progress. We’ve had many setbacks and disappointments, but it is astonishing how far we’ve come. And time is on our side; there’s no telling where we will be in another decade.