Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Legalizing Gay Marriage

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Legalizing Gay Marriage

Article excerpt

Legalizing Gay Marriage. Michael Mello. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 2004. 352 pp. ISBN 1-59213-079-8. $22.95 (paper).

Americans are ambivalent about gay and lesbian long-term relationships. Although studies and polls repeatedly show that more than half of respondents oppose gay marriage, a majority endorse providing gay and lesbian couples with benefits similar to those of married couples (http://www.thetaskforce.org/community/ marriagecenter.cfm). In Legalizing Gay Marriage, Michael Mello provides commentary on the compromise that led to Vermont's civil union statute, which accords same-sex couples the same rights as married couples but without using the label "marriage." This compromise resulted, he argues, not just from the Vermont Supreme Court's decision in Baker v. Vermont in 1999 but also from the subsequent social and political reaction in Vermont. How Vermonters responded to the concept of gay marriage provides, Mello believes, insight into the national debate over same-sex marriage.

Mello teaches law at Vermont Law School and thus had an inside view of all the events that resulted, first, in the Vermont Supreme Court's opinion in Baker that, under the Vermont state constitution, the state must grant same-sex couples the same "benefits and protections" that other marital couples enjoy, and, second, in the Vermont state legislature's creation of "civil unions" as an alternative to marriage. Indeed, he explains that he wrote the chapter on the Vermont legislative response "as the events described were unfolding." (p. 74). Much of the book is focused on the Baker law-suit and the subsequent legislative events, and Mello includes the entire 60-page opinion from Baker v. State as an appendix. He also provides an evaluation of the status of civil unions compared to marriage.

The story that Mello sets out to tell is, as he describes it, "a first draft of history" (p. 25) that focuses on Vermonters' reactions to the Baker opinion and resulting legislation. He catalogues the arguments used by opponents of gay marriage and civil unions, combing through letters to the editors in Vermont newspapers, reviewing town meetings, and examining the legislative debates in the Vermont House and Senate. His research assistants interviewed one of the lead counsels in Baker about the 10-year effort that resulted in Baker. He supplements these sources with some of the legal commentary on the rights of gays and lesbians to marry and with his personal experiences as a heterosexual Vermonter who grew up in the South (at one point, he confesses that he feels quite sad that Vermont may not differ from much of the rest of the country when it comes to homophobia and notes that Vermont's alleged exemplary tolerance may be somewhat illusory, citing a report that found pervasive racial harassment in the state's schools) (pp. …

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