Three Years After
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words
and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail, April 16, 19631
VERMONT. THE People's Republic of Vermont, an oasis of progressivism and toleration of people's differences in America. I cheered when the Vermont legislature decided that same-sex couples are qualified to adopt. I was glad that gay-bashing was punished as a hate crime. I was proud that my adopted state had outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation. For me, the Baker decision was an occasion for dancing in the streets.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the Vermont homophobes and haters who came out of the woodwork after Baker was decided. My first reaction to the Baker decision was one of joy and complacency: joy that my state's highest court had recognized “our common humanity” with my gay and lesbian friends, students, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances; and complacency that the legislature, now or in the near future, would include same-sex couples in the fundamental human right of civil marriage. I was nagged by the doubts that the Baker court might have set the stage for a resurrection of the loathsome separate-but-equal doctrine, but I shrugged off these worries. This was Vermont in the year 2000, not Virginia in 1954. I thought how nice it was to be living here (where such an act of simple justice would be taken as so obviously right and noncontroversial) rather than Virginia (where it would be unthinkable).
Then the backlash set in. Even the legislative hearings didn't snap me out of my blithe complacency; I took them as merely the sour-grapes whinings of lawyers and zealots who had lost in Baker. It was the letters to the editor—that relentless daily drumbeat, day after day after day, for