While nothing as dramatic as the enactment of Vermont's civil unions law happened for American gay couples in 2001, it was a watershed year in the ongoing fight for same-sex partner freedoms. A number of sweeping changes happened overseas: Germany, Finland, and Portugal granted recognition to same-sex partnerships, and the Netherlands became the first country in history to allow lesbian and gay couples full marriage fights [see chart below]. But in the United States, the number of victories in court cases as well as in local and state legislation may suggest that a steady step-by-step strategy is the way to go.
In October, California governor Gray Davis signed a domestic-partnership bill that places the state second only to Vermont in terms of the rights and protections afforded to same-sex couples. "That acknowledgment says that ... both the public and the government are now saying that same-sex families matter," says Michael Thurber, co-executive director of Marriage Equality California.
Several court cases this year challenged existing laws to expand--or create--rights for legal same-sex partnership: notably, the seven gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts who sued theft state in April for the right to marry. New England gay rights group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is representing the couples in the case, which is expected to be heard in state superior court in early 2002. Though the suit is similar to the 1997 Vermont one that culminated in that state's decision to allow gay civil unions, the hope in Massachusetts is to achieve nothing short of full marriage rights. "Right now [marriage is] a privileged bastion of heterosexuality, and it really need not be," says attorney Mary Bonauto of GLAD.
"The challenge now is, How do we build on the extraordinary gains we made?" says Evan Wolfson, director of the Freedom to Marry …