y 89-year-old grandfather fell in love with a woman his age in their etirement community. Should the state deny them marriage because they cannot procreate?” So went the argument of attorney Beth Robinson as she addressed the Vermont Supreme Court in November 1998 for Baker v. State of Vermont, as the six plaintiffs—including myself and my partner, Peter Harrigan—sat in the front row. Throughout the process, Beth was our advocate, our mentor and our coach. On that day she was arguing that the State of Vermont should not deny equal marriage rights and responsibilities to same-gender couples because of the state’s purported interest in procreation. The Baker case rested on the “Common Benefits” clause of the Vermont Constitution, which stated that no group of people in Vermont could be denied a benefit that accrued to any other group. As with Beth’s grandfather, the issue was fundamen- tally about love. The role of the state is to support fami- lies by legally recognizing—through marriage—loving, committed relationships between consenting adults. Beth Robinson and Susan Murray—founders of Ver- mont Freedom to Marry—defined the case as a Vermont battle, refusing help from national LGBT organizations. In her argument before the Vermont Supreme Court,
Beth was assured, calm, clear, articulate, and firm.
The justices ruled in our favor, stating that same-gender couples were entitled to all the rights and
benefits of opposite-gender couples. However, they
failed to take the final step and grant us marriage.
Instead, they asked the Vermont legislature to decide
how to do this. In the ensuing contentious legislative
process, Civil Union was born.
Beth’s most powerful legacy is her refusal to give up
the fight for same-gender marriage in Vermont after
the decision to establish civil unions.
Thanks to her unflagging efforts in working to get
supporters elected to the legislature and pushing
the legal case, in 2010 same-gender marriage became
a reality in Vermont. Ours was the first U.S. state to
achieve gay marriage through a legislative process!
Peter and I were married on August 13, 2010, the tenth
anniversary of our civil union. Vermont set the stage
for gay marriage in Massachusetts, in Canada and
subsequently in other states as well. Beth Robinson,
now Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson,
was a cornerstone and unfailing leader of our success
in Vermont and achievements beyond the borders of
this small but powerful state.
Stannard “Stan” Baker was a plaintiff
in Baker v. State of Vermont.
Activist turned justice: Beth
Robinson, sworn in as an
associate justice in November
2011, stands in front of the
Vermont Supreme Court,
February 1, 2012.
“The role of the state is to support families
by legally recognizing loving, commi;ed
relationships between consenting adults.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY COREY HENDRICKSON/AURORA SELECT
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012