In 2009, Vermont became the first state to pass legislation recognizing marriage equality.
On Wednesday, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paves the way for the rest of the country to catch up.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. The court also dismissed the case around California’s Proposition 8.
The DOMA ruling means that legally married gay and lesbian couples now can take advantage of federal tax breaks and other benefits available to heterosexual married couples.
Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a statement on the ruling, "In Vermont, we have known for a long time that all of us, regardless of whether we are straight or gay, deserve the same right to marry the person we love. I will always remember with immense pride the day we made Vermont the first state to enact same-sex marriage through legislation. It was a hard fight, but it was the right fight."
Gay rights advocates in Vermont were elated by the decisions.
"My finger is hurting from hitting the like button on Facebook," Peter Harridan, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led to Vermont becoming the first state to give legal recognition to gay couples with its civil unions law in 2000, told the Associated Press. "In my heart I knew it had to happen. But it’s still shocking and moving that it did."
The celebrations were colored by the fact that there remains a great deal to sort out regarding gay marriage. For instance, the state in which a legally married gay couples reside may continue to affect the federal benefits they can obtain.
Those who support gay marriage will have to keep pushing to legalize same-sex unions in all 50 states.
But the groundwork was laid with these latest Supreme Court decisions.
State Rep. Peter Welsh said in a prepared statement, "As Vermonters affirmed years ago, all Americans are equal under the law regardless of sexual orientation. There is much more work to be done, but this is a positive step on the inevitable path to full equality. The Court should now finish the job and knock down state laws banning marriage equality."
Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was one of 67 House members to vote against DOMA in 1996, said: "...It is a special victory for gays and lesbians married in Vermont and the increasing number of other states that followed our lead in granting same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else."
In response to the court’s decisions, Rebecca Isaacs, executive director of Equality Federation, the campaign to win equality in all 50 states, released the following statement:
"While this is a joyous day for loving couples in the states with marriage equality, 37 states still treat gay and lesbian citizens and their children as unequal and second-class."
Notwithstanding Wednesday’s ruling, same-sex marriage is legal in 12 states, including Vermont, and the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Washington. These states represent 18 percent of the U.S. population, per AP data. With California, the figure will jump to 30 percent.
Twenty-nine states ban same-sex marriage in their constitutions, while six states bar them under state laws. Two states remain silent on the issue.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions were indisputably groundbreaking.
But there is much more work to be done to level the playing field for gay marriage and heterosexual marriage.