My testimony at the hearing (25/1/00):
I'm going to do something I usually prefer to avoid, and that's claim authority. Not only because I am gay, though I do think we should be able to speak for ourselves, rather than having others tell us what our relationships mean. I have a PhD. I teach at Middlebury College. I teach gay and lesbian studies and queer theory. I have done research in gay studies for ten years and have published books and articles in the field. I've done my homework.
I also have some first-hand experience with prejudice. I grew up in New Orleans, where I went to an all-white school, and not because Louisiana is the whitest state. I was taught that I was better than black people. Integration made no sense! The courts were meddling in state affairs! It wasn't part of our tradition! Marriages between blacks and whites were unnatural and immoral! It's taken me a lot of work and study to unlearn those prejudices I was taught as a child.
You too have heard and will hear a lot of claims to common sense, to tradition, to nature, and to morality in this decision. I understand why people make those claims -- I've been there -- and it does feel good to think you're better than someone else. But what it really boils down to for the opponents of same-sex marriage is "my relationship is better than yours is" and "I'm better than you are." That's what they really want to say behind their appeals, and I'm sorry, but I can't accept that.
I've done my research: gay and lesbian people exist. It is no longer a sin or a disease or a crime to be gay. And we have relationships. Either we are equal in the eyes of the law or we are not. Either our relationships are equal in the eyes of the law or they are not.
If you want to codify our second class citizenship into law, then vote for domestic partnership. It's less than marriage, so it'll have to do for those of us who aren't as good as you are.
If we are truly equal and you think we should be equal legally as well, vote for marriage.
An editorial letter on distortion of church history at the hearings (1/00):
There's been a lot of talk about the history of marriage and the Christian church lately, but most seem to think the first century AD was just like yesterday. It wasn't.
The early Christian church was profoundly ambivalent towards marriage. Celibacy was the preferred lifestyle for the devout, and marriage ceremonies were purely civil or pagan affairs. Only reluctantly did the early church get into the marriage business. For the first 1000 years of Christianity only priests were required to marry in church--yes, priests. For the laity, civil marriage alone was quite acceptable; church blessing a favor, not a requirement. Marriage became a sacrament only at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.
Same-sex marriage is not as new as many think either. Same-sex marriages were common enough in the late Roman period for a law to be introduced in 342 specifically banning them, but in the later Middle Ages they reappeared. Yale historian John Boswell even finds evidence of church-sanctioned same-sex unions, complete with their own ceremonies, of which manuscripts survive in Greek and Slavonic.
Church history, of course, should have no bearing on how the VT legislature rules. But gross distortions of that history should be recognized as such.
Burlington Free Press (response to an editorial against same-sex marriage):
The Free Press analogy between marriage licenses and medical and driver's licenses (editorial 11/21/99) is ridiculous. The state regulates medical practice and driving to protect citizens. Same-sex marriage (contrary to the apocalyptic arguments of opponents) endangers no one. Marriage license restrictions on age, blood-relation, and marital status (contrary to the slippery-slope predictions of those who think same-sex marriage will lead to incest and polygamy) will remain in force. Currently the state neither requires special education nor tests special skills to grant a marriage license. If, as the Free Press claims, marriage is truly a government-conferred privilege like a medical or driver's license, perhaps it should? Perhaps it is in the interest of the state to protect children by ensuring they are born only to well-educated parents? Should we require a degree or a minimum SAT score?
Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that marriage is the fundamental societal unit on which the stability of the state rests (and that same-sex marriage will therefore lead to anarchy). The Free Press editorial claims that marriage is not fundamental to citizenship. You can't have it both ways.
Addison Eagle (11/99):
Why do opponents of same-sex marriage always bring up Adam and Eve? Fine poster spouses they are! They were never married in either church or secular wedding, and they brought us sin, expulsion from paradise, death, and earning bread through the sweat of our brow (thanks a lot), to say nothing of parenting Cain! But seriously, Ms. Euber would probably be surprised to know that for the first several centuries of Christianity marriages were exclusively secular and the church long resisted making them a sacrament. And that today all objective studies all find same-sex couples every bit as good at raising children as mixed-sex couples. What makes me sick is bigotry: why do some people use religion and appeals to the "laws of nature" to justify their real goal: proving they're better than other people. They're not. And we should all be equal under the law.
Letter to the Editor (various papers, 13/3/00) Who has a right to speak?
I'm fed up with self-appointed experts like Libby Sternberg and her ilk mouthing off about same-sex marriage. As a professor of Russian I teach my students to evaluate their sources: I think Russians have a right to speak about Russian culture. I think people who have lived in Russia and studied the language may have something worthwhile to say. But, say, a Spanish teacher from Middlebury who has never studied Russian probably doesn't. Similarly I think gay people have a right to speak about their own lives, and I think people who have really studied gays and lesbians or at least know some may have something to say too. But I can't fathom why a straight man or woman from Athens or Alburg with no gay friends should think they know anything at all. How many of these TIP or Who'd a Thunk It folks are gay? Have any of them read even one book on homosexuality by a gay person? Why do they insist on retailing lies and misinformation while claiming they know facts? Of course they have a right to exercise their freedom of speech , but why do they want to show their ignorance?
A few cases in point: Lie: all gays are wealthy. The assumption is we're all male--men earn more than women--and childless. What about the lesbians with kids, who were very visible at the hearings? Lie: we're all well-educated. OK, I'll grant that homophobes are usually uneducated, which is why gays and lesbians are less visible in less-educated groups. Lie: same-sex marriages will bankrupt the medical system because of AIDS. No DP statistics from companies support this claim, and again: what about the lesbians? In general, why are all the bigots' horror stories about men only? If I were a woman--even a straight woman--I'd get mad. Lie: we are a very powerful special interest group. Then how come all we see is letters from Hawaii and anti-marriage ads? The only power we really have is that the truth is on our side. The legislature, especially the house judiciary committee, has educated itself about the issues, which is why it's ahead of the people on granting rights.
Finally, I'd like a moratorium on the phrase "I'm not a homophobe,
but" -- Has anyone ever seen that phrase without it being followed
by a homophobic statement? Real anti-homophobic people don't have to defend
themselves. We know them by their acts.
Letter to the Editor (various papers, 11/5/00) On bigotry and homophobia
They weren't bigots. Thoughtful, decent people opposed integration in the name of "states rights" and "Southern tradition." Now the excuse is "traditional marriage" and "take it to the people." Of course it's not prejudice, it's not bigotry, they don't really hate gay people! Tell me another.
They say Vermont legislators didn't listen to the people! Then why is it that every single legislator who compromised moved away from same-sex marriage, not towards it? It's because they listened to the bigoted, ignorant majority that we have marriage lite, Jim Crow marriage, the marriage that dare not speak its name.
They say the legislature is arrogant! No, the arrogant ones are the straight
people who think they know what's best for gay people. Not only that--they
think they can tell us what our sexuality is all about. How many gay people
do you hear talking about "choice?" If you're straight and believe
your own sexuality is a choice, fine! But don't tell me what mine is; I
know better than you. And there's more: straight people have such a sense
of arrogant entitlement, that if we get a second-class institution just
for us, they want in too! It's OK for gays to be excluded from marriage;
but God forbid straight people be excluded from anything. Arrogant?