New Documentary Depicts Vermont Lawyers' Fight For Same-Sex Marriage

Jun 16, 2015

The new documentary The State of Marriage tells the story of a prominent civil rights attorney and two small-town Vermont lawyers whose legal battle paved the way for same-sex marriage in Vermont and across the county.

The documentary airs this week at the Providence International Film Festival, and will be coming to Burlington in the upcoming months. 

The story centers on Vermont lawyers Beth Robinson and Susan Murray, who – along with prominent civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto – filed a lawsuit in Vermont on behalf of three gay couples seeking to marry.  The documentary recounts the two decades of grassroots campaigning, heated town hall meetings and statewide debate.

"Susan was involved in her first LGTB family rights lawsuit in the late 80s, and Mary was one of the pioneers of the marriage equality movement, so they were laying the groundwork for this years before," says Jeff Kaufman, the documentary's writer and director.                

"People in their own community and people around the country thought they were crazy, but they had this vision and they had a strategy to make it come together."

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. While Massachusetts was the first to formally legalize marriage between same sex couples, the state that paved the way was Vermont, where civil unions first became legal in 2000. 

Kaufman says after Hawaii debated and ultimately voted down same sex marriage, the Vermont lawyer team realized they had three battles to win: they had to win in the court public opinion, in the legal courts and, ultimately politically.

“So they took the idea of marriage equality to public discourse in a way that had never ever been done before,” Kaufman says. “They would set up booth in a county fair and just introduce the idea of what was then called gay marriage to people who were walking by."

Kaufman says the debates were often heated and stressful, yet the team persevered for nearly two decades. “It’s an incredible role model for grassroots organizing anywhere,” he says.