How Vt. helped pave the way for marriage equality - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How Vt. helped pave the way for marriage equality

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"My first reaction was 'Yes!'" Holly Puterbaugh said.

It's a yes Holly Puterbaugh and Lois Farnham have been hoping for for decades. They've been together since 1972 and were one of the three Vermont couples who sued for marriage equality in Vermont 16 years ago.

"When you think back to 1997 when the whole idea of a same-sex couple getting married was outlandishly unknown-- to 16 years," Puterbaugh said, "that's a long way in 16 years."

"It is," Farnham agreed.

Their Vermont suit, along with Stan Baker and Peter Harrigan, and Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles, led to the first-in-the-nation civil unions law.

"In some ways it was a prototype," Susan Murray said.

Murray was one of the attorneys that led the charge in court and the Statehouse, first arguing for civil unions in 2000, and then for same-sex marriage in 2009. She and now Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson launched education, lobbying and fundraising organizations to put faces to the names seeking marriage licenses in Vermont.

"When people started telling their stories gay people stopped being other, stopped being strangers," Murray said.

But not all Vermonters agreed and change did not happen without opposition. Traditional marriage advocates showed their strength at the Statehouse and the ballot box. Take Back Vermont became a movement after civil unions. And Republicans took control of the House for the first time in more than a decade.

"I think Vermont did help lay the groundwork," Murray said. "All these Vermonters who were talking about this for years and years and years helps, and helped lay the groundwork for the decision today."

She says at the heart of the DOMA decision-- that the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection to all people. And that idea of equality was the foundation of the Vermont Supreme Court case 16 years ago.

"DOMA specifically singled out one segment of the population-- we're not going to treat you equally, we're going to treat you as lesser than," Murray explained.

"Today is a day to celebrate," Stan Baker said.

Baker says waiting for the DOMA ruling brings the anticipation of his Vermont marriage lawsuit back.

"It might be next Monday. It might be next Monday, when is it going to happen?" he said.

He and his husband, Peter Harrigan, married the summer it became legal here, proud to be part of historic change along with two other Vermont couples.

"We didn't change our lives in order to be plaintiffs, which is one of the things we are proud of," Baker said. "We all went on with our lives. We're all still together. We're all married. And now we all have equal benefits."

Federal recognition will have a financial impact on the couples, too. Puterbaugh and Farnham say the change will impact their Social Security. And Baker says it will save him and his husband about $1,000 a year in taxes they will no longer have to pay on health benefits.

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Supreme Court ruling a victory for same-sex marriage supporters

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