State of the Unions



“The degree of ugliness and the volume of nastiness are things we’re not accustomed to here,” says Barbara Dozetos, editor of Out in the Mountains, Vermont’s statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender newspaper. “It brought to the surface a lot of homophobia that previously lived silently in this state. The excitement has been mixed with equal parts pain.” As a result, she says, “the mood is not all celebration.”

And even the most ardent supporters of the new law cannot escape that it falls short of full equality. The law leaves unaddressed more than 1,000 federal benefits available to married couples but still denied gay and lesbian Vermonters. Dozetos and her girlfriend of three years afford just one example of how couples can still fall through the cracks. Dozetos’s girlfriend, a Canadian, is in the United States on a student visa. Even if the two register as a couple with the state of Vermont, the girlfriend still faces U.S. immigration rules that could force her to return home in August.

Some gays and lesbians are so skeptical of the law that they may not take advantage of it. “It codifies us as second-class citizens,” says Windham County resident Bari Shamas. Shamas and her partner of 15 years have not yet decided if they will register. She also expresses “reservations about registering with the government as queer.”

Defenders almost universally refer to the law with the same words as plaintiff Peter Harrigan: “A step in the right direction, toward marriage.”

Just how and when that next step might be taken, however, does not seem to be pressing on the minds of most gay and lesbian Vermonters. In fact, political insiders warn that in the near future the “next step” should not be pushing for gay marriage but protecting the new law from repeal.

In November every member of the Vermont legislature is up for reelection, as is the governor. Opponents have promised to make the gay issue paramount.

This law “will cost some people their political lives,” senate majority leader McCormack predicts—possibly even his own. “I’m from a county ready to lynch me,” he says.

Openly gay representative Lippert is adamant that continuing to push now for gay marriage could be a disastrous tactical error. “Legislators who supported this are vigorously and viciously being targeted for defeat. Our task right now is not to go for further relief,” he insists, “but to educate Vermonters to reelect legislators who showed courage.”

Even Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force spokesman Chris Tebbetts concedes that “in the future, we can collect evidence of how this falls short of equality. But now is a time for healing.”

Tired of court battles and statehouse protests, many gay and lesbian Vermonters seem eager to put down their placards and finally capitalize on the hard-won benefits. Kletecka and Dostis are looking forward to turning their attention from the political to the personal as they begin planning a ceremony to accompany their union. “It’s been such a hard battle,” Kletecka declares. “Now I want a party.”