Freedom to marry law an economic boon for CT

On Oct. 10, 2008, the Connecticut Supreme Court legalized marriage for same-sex couples, and since then an estimated 2,500 gay and lesbian couples have traveled here to be joined, generating what one economist calculates has been a $40 million stimulus for restaurants, hotels, wedding photographers and caterers.

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Culhane: Should we hate civil unions, or love them?

John Culhane on civil unions: "...[they] may well have been – and may, in some states, even continue to be – politically necessary compromises, way stations of a sort on the route to full marriage equality. But we should continue to point out that there’s plenty in a name."

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Voice for Equality: Scott Stringer

Scott Stringer is a New York Democratic politician and the current Borough President of Manhattan. In 2005, he entered the race to succeed C. Virginia Fields as Manhattan Borough President. On September 13, 2005, he won the Democratic primary against 9 other candidates and was later elected in the November general election. He took office as Borough President on January 1, 2006.

In July of 2010, Mr. Stringer and his fiancée, Elyse Buxbaum, announced they would wed in Connecticut in what they described as a protest of New York’s failure to legalize the freedom to marry.

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Looking back after a decade of Vermont civil unions

A decade after Vermont's first civil unions, it and four other states—Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as the District of Columbia—have instituted full marriage for same-sex couples, and a Burlington couple say many people view their relationship as "ho-hum."

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FTM Press Release: On Eve of Valentine’s Day, Tragic NY Case Again Shows Civil Union Does Not Work

Freedom to Marry Press Release: On Even of Valentine's Day, Tragic NY Case Again Shows 'Civil Union Does Not Work.'

Amid mounting evidence from states such as New Jersey and Vermont that the legal mechanism of "civil union" fails to protect families and falls far short of the security and clarity that come with marriage itself, a legal case arising from a New York couple's tragedy is hitting a sad milestone this Valentine's Day. "John and Conrad's tragic case is yet more evidence that relegating gay people to separate legal mechanisms outside of marriage, such as civil union, does not work to protect them and their loved ones - even in states such as New York, which honors out-of-state marriages for gay and non-gay couples alike," said Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry.

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Vermont State Senator Diane Snelling Testifies before NJ Senate Committee

Vermont Freedom to Marry
December 7, 2009
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee members voted by a 7-6 margin on Monday to advance a marriage equality bill. The full NJ Senate is expected to vote later this week. Vermont's own State Senator Diane Snelling was there to testify at the committee's invitation. [Link] Her words:

It’s an honor to be here today to testify in favor of Marriage Equality.

I’m a moderate who has served eight years in the Senate as the only Republican in a six seat district, and as one of only seven Republicans in a 30 seat Senate. My standing Committees are, Appropriations, and Natural Resources and Energy. I’ve worked hard to earn a reputation for being non-partisan and have always been elected with strong Democrat and Independent support.

I’m grateful that the Democrat majority in the Senate respects my work and that I have been able to fully participate at a leadership level. I serve on the Joint Fiscal Committee, the Budget Conference Committee, the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, and, the Joint Legislative Committee on Government Accountability.

Some sense of my background may be helpful. I grew up in a small town in the District that I represent. Of course, compared to New Jersey, all towns in Vermont are small. I attended local schools and currently live about 3 miles from my former high school. I graduated from Harvard in 1974 with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies and received my Masters in Studio Art from NYU in 1994. I have worked in advertising and marketing in New York and in Vermont, but I am an artist by training and practice.

Obviously, I am not a New Jersey voter, but I believe you all have some constituents like me who have been active in the community serving on local boards and commissions.

Vermont is a small state of small towns where everyone knows everyone and neighbors and family and friends look out for each other. It is still mostly rural. However, the same issue before you today was intensely debated throughout the State.

Growing up I was surrounded by politics. My father served several terms in the Vermont House and also ran and lost for Lt. Governor and Governor, before being elected Governor of Vermont in 1976. He served four consecutive terms, then ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1986. He was then re-elected Governor in 1990.

We spent many days campaigning as a family and learned first hand as children about many sides of politics. My two brothers, my sister and I all went door to door by ourselves seeking petition signatures and distributing brochures and bumper stickers.

We learned about the issues, but mostly we learned about responsibility and about how people express political opinions.

When I was younger it was difficult to process losing so publicly, but now I understand it was a valuable lesson. My father taught me that doing the right thing isn’t always easy but it’s always important to do the right thing.

After my father’s sudden death in August of 1991, my mother ran and was elected to two terms as Lt. Governor. In 1996, she began a campaign for Governor but had to drop out after she suffered a near death from a ruptured aneurysm. However, she recovered in time to run for the State Senate and was elected. In 1998, she ran again for Lt. Governor and was defeated by less than a thousand votes. In 2000 my mother ran again for the Senate and was elected. She served until 2001 when she suffered a stroke in August and didn’t recover sufficiently to return in January.

Governor Howard Dean appointed me to fill my mother’s seat in January 2002.

At that time I found myself transitioning from being my mother’s primary caregiver to being a State Senator during the second half of a biennium. I knew I had to choose a party, and I chose to honor my parent’s contributions as moderates within a changing Republican party. For myself, I set out from the beginning with the knowledge that good policy was my most important goal, and that working collaboratively and creatively would deliver the best results.

The Civil Unions law, enacted in 2000, was prior to my time in the Senate, but my mother did vote for it. During my first campaign I advised voters that I supported the law and would have voted in favor of it. In subsequent campaigns as the issue of Marriage Equality was discussed I was clear about my support for moving beyond “separate, not equal” and that I would support legislation.

I have a long standing commitment to civil rights, beginning with an intense awareness of the Freedom Riders and the Civil Rights actions in the 1960s. One of my proudest accomplishments in the Senate was the passage in 2006 of Legislation I sponsored that recognized the Abenaki and acknowledged their cultural contributions to the State of Vermont. I currently serve on the Vermont State Advisory Committee to the U.S, Commission on Civil Rights.

Like New Jersey, Vermont passed civil unions in response to a court decision. Although it was groundbreaking at the time, it was also a compromise. The law didn’t provide full equality, and left many Vermont same sex couples and their children as second class citizens. We did experience a period of intense division then, but in 2009 it’s a different world and most Vermonters have accepted the fact that same sex couples are neighbors and friends and family and deserve equal legal rights in their commitment to each other.

This year the Vermont Legislature passed Marriage Equality by supermajorities in both Houses, and with a majority of Republicans (4-3) in the Senate. We heard much of the same testimony you have and we counted pro and con messages from constituents. For some Senators it was a difficult decision. I can honestly say that whatever fears legislators had voting yes were underscored by pride. I can also say that it is important to acknowledge that some decisions must be made by courageous elected leaders and not determined by vocal opposition to a minority.

Contrary to many concerns we have experienced relative calm after the passage of the law in Vermont. There will always be people who see the issue differently but I believe most Vermonters are willing to understand and accept the logic of equal rights for all citizens.

I have received hundreds and hundreds of thank you notes from Vermonters who support Marriage Equality so I know that any votes I may have lost have been replaced many times with new supporters. I also know that none of my colleagues in the Vermont Senate regrets their vote.

Today, I ask you to be brave and do the right thing, please vote yes for Marriage Equality in New Jersey.

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Vermont’s Shumlin to NJ Legislators: “Just Do It!”

Vermont Freedom to Marry
December 8, 2009
Vermont's Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin has once again gone all in for the freedom to marry. In a letter published on New Jersey's, and delivered to New Jersey legislators today, Senator Shumlin implored them: "Just Do It!" [Link] See full text below:

As you consider a vote to extend the civil marriage laws to include same-sex couples, let me offer my two cents, based on our own experience here in Vermont: Just Do It!

In April of this year, supermajorities of Vermont's Senate and General Assembly voted to eliminate the discrimination against same-sex couples in our marriage laws. A majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in our Senate voted for the bill. For some, it was an easy vote; for others, it was a scary vote. But I can assure you that for everyone who voted for the bill, it was among the proudest acts of their careers.

The opportunity to make a difference in the central civil rights movement of this generation-to join the heroes that came before us in shaping the march to a more inclusive and just nation- only comes a once in a political lifetime. Don't let this moment pass you by. And don't be swayed by the fear-mongers. I can tell you from firsthand experience: They're wrong.

To those who say the legislature shouldn't take up this issue in these tough economic times: Our business leaders made it clear that if Vermont wants to compete in the 21st century economy-if we want to draw the most talented workforce and fortify our high-tech and sustainable energy sectors- we need to ensure that our laws are inclusive and welcoming. This is a realm where the private sector is way ahead of government. Most competitive Vermont employers had already adopted whatever policies they could in order to attract the best talent; they needed us to catch up.

To those who fear that eliminating the law's discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens will somehow tramp on the religious freedom of others: It's just not true. Our law, like New Jersey's bill, contains provisions designed to reinforce religious freedom. By making a civil marriage license available to all committed couples, while preserving faith communities' freedom to celebrate or decline to participate in same-sex marriage celebrations, we've put all faith communities on the same footing.

To those who argue that New Jersey's civil union law is enough: We learned from nine years of experience in Vermont that separate would never be equal. From increased challenges around health insurance and out-of-state travel, to the reality that we can't invent a word in 2000 that has anything like the meaning and significance of marriage, to the rent in our social fabric that follows when our laws divide us on the basis of sexual orientation-the civil union law did not, and could not-ensure genuine legal equality.

And to those who fear a backlash that will divide your community: We're past that. I know about backlash; in 2000 after we passed our civil union bill, we experienced backlash and division in Vermont. It wasn't fun. But that was then. I've been struck by how different the conversation has been in 2009-and how off base our fears of backlash in 2009 have proven to be. After our bill passed, the hoopla died down in a matter of days. Even citizens who would not have voted for a marriage law have moved on. Sure, there will always be a small minority objecting loudly to equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. But the vast majority of citizens simply aren't bothered by legally recognizing the two men or two women living next door.

As I've begun campaigning to be Vermont's next Governor, I've traveled the state from top to bottom. I don't hear much about the marriage law; the Vermonters I've met have a lot of other things on their minds. Of those who do bring it up, nearly all are incredibly grateful. It seems most everyone has an uncle, daughter, or family friend that's gay.

I have no doubt that for some of you, this vote seems scary. Fear is the opposition's strongest weapon at this point. I promise you-if you do the right thing, you won't regret it.

I invite my fellow elected officials to contact me if you'd like to talk more about our experiences in Vermont.

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The State of Marriage Equality in Vermont, Maine, and Wash D.C.

PBS: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly
September 4, 2009
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reports on recent developments regarding the state of marriage equality in Vermont, Maine and Washington, D.C. [Link]

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Opinion: Anti-gay organizations know that saying they wish to ban marriage equality is harmful to th

Good As You
September 4, 2009
Good As You's Jeremy Hooper deconstructs a Human Events post by Elisabeth Meinecke that denounces Ben & Jerry's for renaming their "Chubby Hubby" ice cream flavor "Hubby Hubby." Hooper: "They can talk in 'restore traditional marriage' code all they want. But at the end of the day, those who are anti-Hubby Hubby will never be able to hide the unprincipled rocky road that they want for gay lives and loves." [Link]

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Vermont residents stand up to Kansas anti-gay protestors

Burlington Free Press
September 1, 2009
In response to protesters from Kansas yelling anti-gay messages outside Montpelier High School, students encouraged people to give $1 to GLAD, a New England gay rights group, for every minute the unwelcome protestors remained at the school. [Link]

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