Friday, June 26, 2015

Vermonters Celebrate Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 8:11 PM

Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg)
When a jubilant Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) — one of Vermont's first openly gay lawmakers, who led the charge for civil unions and same-sex marriage —strode up the steps of Burlington's City Hall and, with a flourish, popped open a rainbow-colored umbrella, he captured the mood of the crowd before him. 

A large group gathered on short notice Friday evening to celebrate the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the Constitution. People hugged, cried, and wished one another, "Happy Decision Day."

"Today, love won," said Kim Fountain, executive director of the Pride Center of Vermont.

Several people reflected on Vermont's pioneering efforts — first allowing civil unions and then becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage legislatively.

House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) recalled weeping after lawmakers successfully overrode Governor Jim Douglas's veto of Vermont's gay marriage bill. "I went back to my office and just felt the release of having done something so monumental," he said.

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Supreme Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage; Burlington to Celebrate

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 11:33 AM

Kim Fountain preparing to talk to reporters at Pride Center of Vermont. - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • Kim Fountain preparing to talk to reporters at Pride Center of Vermont.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Friday that same-sex couples have a right to wed, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

Pride Center of Vermont is planning a 5:30 p.m. event Friday evening on the steps of Burlington City Hall to celebrate the landmark decision — and expects a crowd.

"This is such a significant moment in LGBTQ history," said Kim Fountain, executive director of Pride Center Vermont, in a statement. "Just 50 years ago, there were no rights protecting LGBTQ people. Today, the highest court in the country handed down a decision consistent with polls that show overwhelming public support for marriage equality."

The center noted that Vermont has been a national leader in the fight for marriage equality. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to offer civil unions to same-sex couples. In 2009, the state became the first to legislate a marriage-equity law.

As soon as the SCOTUS decision was announced, Fountain said, phones and social media lit up — and people are still texting, Facebooking and tweeting hours later. People are "ebullient, absolutely joyous," she said. 

"I'm just so excited with how far we've come," said Hillary Boone, a former board co-chair for the center.

People at the center on Friday noted that many rights accompany legal marriage — issues related to insurance, inheritances and more. "This helps to protect those folks," Fountain said.

The Pride Center is inviting people to the steps of Burlington City Hall tonight to share their stories and to thank the people who've worked for years to further the issue.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

House Takes First Step in Banning Official Travel to Discriminatory States

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2015 at 5:36 PM

Rep. Paul Poirier urges House members to support a resolution asking other states to protect citizens against discrimination based on sexual orientiation. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Rep. Paul Poirier urges House members to support a resolution asking other states to protect citizens against discrimination based on sexual orientiation.

By a 119-1 vote, the House passed a resolution Friday asking the governor, legislature and judiciary to ban travel to 13 U.S. states that allow discrimination. It also calls on all states to pass laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Financial embargoes do work,” Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) declared as House members were about to vote.

The resolution, H.R.8, comes in response to recent laws passed in Indiana and other states to protect religious freedom, which were widely criticized for also permitting faith-based discrimination against gays.

Indiana took action Thursday to alter its law, but Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) said it wasn’t enough. Only 20 states offer legal protection against job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, he said.

Rep. Warren Van Wyck (R-Ferrisburgh) cast the lone dissenting vote. He didn’t explain his vote on the floor but had a written statement handy. “Vermont has plenty of challenges within its border,” he wrote. “I am not interested in passing judgments on the actions of the legislatures of 49 other states unless they directly affect the substantive well being of the state of Vermont and its residents.”

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Montpeculiar: Consensus on Condemning Discrimination, But Not on How

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 8:11 PM

Reps. Diana Gonzalez (P/D-Winooski), left, and Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) discuss an anti-discriminatory resolution Thursday at the Statehouse. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Reps. Diana Gonzalez (P/D-Winooski), left, and Anne Donahue (R-Northfield) discuss an anti-discriminatory resolution Thursday at the Statehouse.
As they wrapped up work on blockbuster education and water-quality bills, House members spent part of Thursday pondering how to express their feelings about a spate of religious freedom laws popping up in states around the country.

As the day wore on, those expressions grew more complicated. So complicated that discussion on the House floor was delayed until Friday. It seemed every statement condemning discrimination either went too far or not far enough for somebody.

Earlier this week, Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a ban on non-essential state travel to Indiana, which has drawn controversy for a religious freedom law many believe opens the door to discrimination against gays and lesbians. On Thursday, 26 House members sponsored a resolution asking Gov. Peter Shumlin, the legislature and judiciary to extend that ban to all states with similar religious freedom laws. 

"This legislative body expresses its strong opposition to Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act as signed into law on March 26, 2015," the resolution read, "and expresses its support for, at a minimum, enactment of the proposed clarification and, preferably, for the law's repeal." 

Indiana’s law was widely seen as a legal justification for private business owners to refuse, on religious grounds, to serve gays and lesbians. The law ignited outcry, prompting lawmakers in Indiana to vote Thursday to change the law to prohibit its use as a legal defense for refusing to offer services. 

“We need to do this because I think it expresses the majority will of the people of Vermont,” said Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre), who was among the sponsors.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Boy Scouts Bow Out of Montpelier Parade Over National Policy on Gay Leaders

Posted By on Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 11:22 AM

  • Photo by Fred Cook, courtesy of Montpelier Alive
Local Boy Scouts won't be selling bottled water or volunteering on the clean-up crew for Montpelier's July 3 parade this year. The reason?

City councilors earlier this month balked at approving a vendor request for the Scouts, citing unease about the Boy Scouts of America's national membership policy banning gay and lesbian scout leaders from the organization. The council tabled what would have otherwise been a quick approval and invited the Scouts to return two weeks later to discuss the application.

The Scouts declined that invitation — and pulled their application to be a vendor at the parade. Now the group of Scouts, which included two troops and one co-ed "venturing crew," have decided against volunteering for the clean-up crew after the parade, too. The Scouts have been involved for the last three years, but after the city council kerfuffle, "we're going to steer clear of Montpelier for awhile," said Leslie Sanborn, a Barre resident and longtime volunteer with all three scouting groups. "It's left a very bad taste in our mouths."  

The Scouts aren't the only one who feel that way. Yesterday, Associated General Contractors of Vermont pulled its longstanding donation of safety vests and cones from the event, citing dissatisfaction with the city council's treatment of the Boy Scouts. Casella Waste Systems and the local sheriff stepped in with safety equipment to fill that gap. City councilors and other community volunteers are stepping up to fill the shoes left behind by the Scouts, said Ashley Witzenberger, the executive director of the event's organizer, Montpelier Alive.

"We're just trying to put on a really great day for the whole community," said Witzenberger, who expressed appreciation for the Scouts' hard work in the past and disappointment at the fall-out from the debate. The July 3 parade is the organization's largest event, and pulls more than 20,000 people to downtown Montpelier. 

Meanwhile, the back-and-forth has touched off angry phone calls to Montpelier Alive, comments of support to the city council member who raised objections to the Scouts' policy — and a flurry of letters to the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. At the heart of the debate is this question: Just how much does a national policy barring openly gay Scout leaders matter on the ground in Vermont?

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

This Week's Issue: A Neighborly Noise Feud in Burlington, 'Border' Security and Maple Saplings

Posted on Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 11:44 AM


Find these news and politics stories in this week's Seven Days...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

This Week's Issue: Methadone, Molly and More

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 5:13 PM


Grab your favorite pumpkin-flavored coffee drink — that little chill in the morning means fall is here, and the first Seven Days of the season hit the streets today. Here's what you'll find for news and politics this week:

Pick up this week's issue in print, online or on the app.

This week's cover image by the late Stephen Huneck is courtesy of the Stephen Huneck Gallery. See this week's cover story about the future of Dog Mountain.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

For Bi-National, Same-Sex Couples in Vermont, Court's DOMA Decision is a Reprieve

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 7:39 PM


Barely a month ago, Michael Upton's hopes of living in the same country as his partner were dashed.

Since 2008, the South Hero resident had been in a relationship with Jandui Cavalcante, a Brazilian national. But because they're gay — and the federal government didn't recognize their relationship — Cavalcante couldn't apply for a green card.

Their best bet seemed to be an amendment Sen. Patrick Leahy had introduced to comprehensive immigration reform legislation extending new rights to binational, gay couples. But after an impassioned debate in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Leahy's fellow Democrats bailed on him and he withdrew his amendment. 

On Wednesday, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the point became moot.

"It's very exciting. I could feel the huge sigh of relief 5000 miles away as tens of thousands of people realized this nightmare has a near end in sight," said Upton, who is currently visiting Cavalcante in Brazil. "We were together in Rio de Janeiro, watching SCOTUSblog line-by-line."

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Vermonters Celebrate Supreme Court Decision Overturning DOMA

Posted By on Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 11:45 AM

This morning, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned DOMA, the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage. 

A group of same-sex marriage supporters gathered at RU12? Community Center in Burlington to follow the proceedings. The two Supreme Court marriage decisions — one on DOMA, the other on California's Proposition 8 — were expected shortly after 10 a.m. The group at RU12? had set up two laptops on a conference table to follow along on NBC News and SCOTUSblog's live blog.

RU12? volunteer Susanna Weller (foreground, right), who works for the Vermont Department of Health, organized the gathering. "I couldn't sit by myself in my office and be 'working,'" she said. "I needed to be with my community."

The group of nine supporters and five reporters bantered nervously until 10:01, when Weller read aloud from SCOTUS blog, announcing the first opinion: "It's DOMA," she said. The room went silent.

When it became clear that the court had overturned DOMA, the audience cheered and cried. The nuances of the decision weren't immediately apparent, and it was still uncertain at that point how the court would rule on Proposition 8, but the audience was jubilant.

Barb Dozetos, a marketing consultant who once edited Vermont's now-defunct GLBT newspaper Out in the Mountains (pictured, talking with Kristin Carlson of WCAX), told reporters that the decision signaled that there was only one "flavor" of marriage. "Marriage is marriage, period," she said. "It basically finally takes the word 'gay' out from in front of marriage. That's what this means."

Find the latest on the rulings on SCOTUSblog here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Gay Rights and Immigration, Leahy Sticks it to Fellow Democrats

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 9:41 AM


As the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up its weeks-long debate over comprehensive immigration reform late Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did a rare and remarkable thing: He forced four Democrats who generally support gay rights to publicly acknowledge they would vote against a controversial gay rights measure.

In the backslapping world of the U.S. Senate, in which members of the same party typically look out for one another's political interests, that ain't how it usually works.

"It's courageous," former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank tells Seven Days. "The hardest thing to do is to have to break with some of your friends."

The issue at hand, as we touched on briefly in this week's Fair Game, was a pair of amendments Leahy authored that would extend to gay Americans the right to request green cards for their foreign-born partners.

Leahy's been pushing the idea for a decade — first as a stand-alone bill called the "Uniting American Families Act." When its provisions weren't included in the comprehensive immigration bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight," Leahy filed two amendments to the bill that would accomplish the same.

But the pushback from Senate Republicans was fierce — and even Democratic members of the Gang of Eight warned that if offered and accepted, Leahy's amendments could topple the delicate balance of immigration reform yet again. Those Democrats were so nervous Leahy would force a vote on the matter, they asked the White House to intervene — which it did Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

"The real question was, 'Will Leahy buck the pressure and offer this?' Not even will he call for a vote, but will he offer it?" says Heather Cronk, co-director of the LGBT social justice group GetEqual, who attended Tuesday's mark-up.

Sure enough, after dispensing with nearly 300 other amendments to the immigration bill, the Judiciary Committee chairman called up one last amendment late Tuesday: his own.

"I don't want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," Leahy said. "Discriminating against a segment of Americans because of who they love is a travesty and is ripping many American families apart."

Then, without indicating whether he would force a vote on it, the senator from Vermont said, "I know this issue is important to many who serve on this committee. Before I speak further, I'd like to hear from other members — especially from those who drafted this bill — who, for whatever reason, decided not to remove discrimination from our current immigration system in their legislative proposal."

Translation: If you're against this, speak up now and explain yourself. I won't let you quietly dodge the issue.

Four Democrats did.

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