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Date : April 22, 2024
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Vermont lawmakers on hand as Biden signs bill protecting same-sex, interracial marriage

Vermont lawmakers on hand as Biden signs bill protecting same-sex, interracial marriage

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Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski; Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg; and Rep. Brian Cina, P/D-Burlington, and others, gather at the White House on Tuesday, Dec. 13, ahead of the signing of the federal Respect for Marriage Act. Photo courtesy of Taylor Small

Standing on the South Lawn of the White House after watching President Joe Biden sign federal protections for same-sex and interracial couples into law, Vermont state Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, was thinking about years past. 

“When I first was appointed to the Legislature in 1994, as the only openly gay member of the Statehouse, I could not have dreamt that this day would come,” Lippert said over the phone, as his husband, Enrique Peredo, stood nearby. “It’s just very, very exciting to see.”

Lippert, who more than two decades ago was a key figure in making Vermont the first U.S. state to grant civil unions to same-sex couples, joined Progressive/Democratic state Reps. Taylor Small of Winooski and Brian Cina of Burlington, along with thousands of others, for a ceremony Tuesday marking the signing of the federal Respect for Marriage Act. 

The legislation, which passed the U.S. House and Senate with bipartisan support, does not force states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples but requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It also provides that same-sex couples get the same federal benefits as any other married couples. 

Moreover, the law repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, which allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states and defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court later declared the 1996 law unconstitutional in its 2013 ruling, United States v. Windsor, and its landmark 2015 ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, the latter of which guaranteed that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry. 

But advocates for marriage equality have grown concerned that the high court could overturn Obergefell following its decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to an abortion in the U.S. In a concurring opinion at the time, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should also reexamine cases allowing LGBTQ+ rights.

In Vermont and around the country this year, advocates have also drawn attention to vitriol and attacks aimed at LGBTQ+ people and organizations. Speaking just before he signed the legislation Tuesday, Biden pointed to “the hate and violence” on display last month when a gunman killed five people and wounded 17 others at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as well as “hundreds of callous, cynical” bills introduced in states across the country that target transgender people.

Lippert said that while he has seen protections for LGBTQ+ people built up in Vermont over the roughly five decades he’s been advocating for members of those communities, he believes that the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ+ people are “under attack” today.

“It takes acts like this being signed into law, and it takes crowds cheering each other on, to continue to fight for our full equality,” he said, with the White House illuminated in rainbow colors in front of him. “There’s rising resistance to who we are. But they will not prevail.”

Lippert said he, Small and Cina watched the bill signing together, having all received invitations for the event directly from the White House. 

Cina, speaking Tuesday night after the ceremony, noted that he was glad to hear Biden  talk explicitly about the need to protect LGBTQ+ people in the U.S., especially since the president voted for the Defense of Marriage Act while in the Senate.

“To see that change happen in (Biden’s) generation, it just gives me more hope, because I know the younger generation is not in the same place,” Cina said. “It’s kind of like when your grandfather finally accepts you for who you are. It felt a little bit like that.”

In 1999, Lippert was the vice chair of the Vermont House Judiciary Committee when the state’s Supreme Court became the first in the nation to rule in favor of marriage-like rights for same-sex partners — starting with three couples who filed the 1997 case, Stan Baker, et al. v. State of Vermont. The following year, the Legislature wrestled with how to turn the decision into law, leading to the drafting in 2000 of the state’s civil union bill. 

Lippert is widely remembered for delivering an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of the civil unions bill on the day that he and other legislators voted on it. It cleared both chambers and was signed into law by then-Democratic Gov. Howard Dean.

The measure was not without its detractors, though, spurring a conservative movement in the state known as “Take Back Vermont” that helped defeat in the next election all but one of the 14 Republican House members who voted for civil unions.

Nearly a decade later in 2009, Vermont lawmakers approved a bill to grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples, only to see then-Republican Gov. Jim Douglas reject it. The House — which initially approved the measure 94-52, just four votes shy of a veto-overriding two-thirds majority — went on to override the governor’s ruling 100-49.

With that, the state became the first to guarantee full same-sex marriage rights without a court order. 

Speaking after the ceremony Tuesday from her hotel in Washington, D.C., Small, who is the first openly transgender member of the Vermont Legislature, said it was “really powerful” to be surrounded by so many other LGBTQ+ people at the White House.

The Respect for Marriage Act, she said, “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.”

Read the story on VTDigger here: Vermont lawmakers on hand as Biden signs bill protecting same-sex, interracial marriage.

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