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Vermont's First Trans State Lawmaker Gets Engaged at White House

Taylor Small and Carsen Russell
From left: Taylor Small and Carsen Russell via Facebook

Taylor Small got a proposal at the signing ceremony for the Respect for Marriage Act.

Taylor Small, the first out transgender state legislator in Vermont, had something extra to celebrate at President Joe Biden's signing of the Respect for Marriage Act Tuesday -- she got a marriage proposal from her partner of four years, Carsen Russell.

"I, of course, said YES and could not think of a more fitting way to celebrate this moment," Small tweeted along with pictures of her and Russell on the White House South Lawn. Her post was headlined "We're officially en-GAY-ged!"

Small, from Winooski, was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in 2020, when she was only 26, and was reelected this year. She is a Democrat and is also affiliated with the Vermont Progressive Party. She has worked for nonprofit organizations, including the state's Pride Center. She has often performed under the drag persona Nikki Champagne and helped lead drag queen story hours.

The Respect for Marriage Act will assure that the federal government continues to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages even if the Supreme Court reverses its rulings that legalized these unions nationwide. It will also assure that states recognize all legal marriages from other states and will finally repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition to same-sex unions and allowed states to deny recognition. DOMA has been unenforceable since the Supreme Court rulings in Windsor v. U.S. (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), but it remains on the books.

The Respect for Marriage Act further provides that no one acting under cover of a state law can legally discriminate against couples based on their gender, race, or national origin, and allows the U.S. attorney general to take enforcement actions. A religious freedom amendment confirms that no nonprofit religious organization would have to provide goods, services, or facilities for wedding ceremonies or receptions, and it clarifies that the federal government would not have to recognize polygamous marriages.

Small joined other Vermont legislators and LGBTQ+ advocates and allies from around the nation in witnessing the signing ceremony Tuesday. The experience was "really powerful," she told VT Digger. The new law, she added, "feels like a stepping stone in the larger work that we need to do to protect and really concretely support LGBTQ rights. But a major one, nonetheless, for our community."

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