A superb account of one deeply divisive battle in the decades-long civil-rights struggle, recounted by the Pulitzer Prize–winning editorialist who covered it on the front lines.
San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, murdered in office in 1978, once “urged gays and lesbians across America to stand up openly, with dignity and pride,” writes Moats, editorial-page editor of the Rutland (Vt.) Herald. “They would provoke bigotry, of course, but in doing so they would expose bigotry to the light, touching the conscience of their neighbors in a surprising and gratifying way.” So it was when Vermonters responded to a State Supreme Court ruling that state laws excluding gay and lesbian citizens from marriage were unconstitutional: some Vermonters welcomed the decision, others viewed it as an abomination. “The issue of gay marriage was about more than marriage,” Moats observes. “It was about how far a secular democracy would expand its arena of freedom.” Opponents of gay marriage on religious grounds insisted that marriage was in fact the only issue, protesting that while they had nothing personal against gays, the Bible said otherwise; such types, including protestors from outside the state, soon became familiar figures at rallies throughout the state, besieging legislators with demands to craft laws that would withstand judicial tinkering. Yet, in time, those opponents found that would-be allies were more tolerant than they; one crusty, flinty Republican, former governor and US Senator Robert Stafford, held a press conference to announce, “I believe that love is one of the great forces in our society and in the state of Vermont. . . . And even if a same-sex couple unites with true love, what is the harm in that. What is the harm?” Eventually, Moats writes, Vermont legislators offered a watered-down compromise authorizing civil union, but not marriage as such, and thus far that compromise has held. But perhaps not for much longer, Moats closes by observing: the Court of Appeal in nearby Ontario ruled in 2003 against restrictions on same-sex marriage, which may inspire a renewal of the struggle in Vermont and elsewhere in the US.
Superior reporting, fine writing: required reading for civil-rights activists.