Vermont Attorney Who Fought For Civil Unions 'Relieved' By Supreme Court Decision

Jun 26, 2015

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court passed down a landmark decision that legalizes same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Attorney Susan Murray has been waiting for this day for a long time.

Sixteen years ago, Murray was part of the Vermont Supreme Court case that led to the nation’s first civil unions law here.

"I’m relieved. I’m so grateful to the thousands of people across this country – and that’s many, many Vermonters – who worked so hard for this day for so long," Murray said by phone from Boston, where she was celebrating her mother's 85th birthday.

Friday's ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court overturned gay marriage bans in several states. It also requires that same-sex marriages be recognized by all states. Even though same sex marriage has been legal in Vermont for several years, Murray says the ruling still changes the game for Vermonters.

"We have been lucky in Vermont that we have had full marriage equality for several years now. But whenever Vermonters travel to other states, they take some legal chances, because they may travel through states that don’t recognize their legal relationship," she said. "So this will make it easy for folks to go wherever they want to go in this country, and not have to worry about whether their relationship and their family will be recognized."

"I'm so grateful to the thousands of people across this country - and that's many, many Vermonters - who worked so hard for this day for so long." - Attorney Susan Murray

Susan Murray is a former law partner of Beth Robinson, the now Vermont Supreme Court justice who argued in Baker v. Vermont, the 1997 Vermont Supreme Court case that led to civil unions.

"We actually laugh," Murray recalls, "because one of the things I used to say to people back then was, I’d say, ‘Fifty years from now, everybody will have full marriage equality, and everybody will wonder what the big hullabaloo was all about.’ And I got a text from Beth this morning when the decision came down, and she said, ‘Well, we were both really wrong about how long it was going to take.’ In a good way!"

Even though Baker v. Vermont only affected the state of Vermont, Murray says it's possible to trace the arguments made in that case to the decision that came out of Washington on Friday.

"This will make it easy for folks to go wherever they want to go in this country, and not have to worry about whether their relationship and their family will be recognized."

"The arguments that we were making are exactly the same arguments that Mary Bonauto made in front of the U.S. Supreme Court a couple of months ago, and the justices recognized that gay and lesbian couples should be entitled to all of the benefits, and all of the burdens and all of the responsibilities of full marriage equality. And it is a violation of the basic equal protections that are guaranteed in our Constitution to deny those rights to same-sex couples," Murray says.

In his dissent today, Chief Justice John Roberts said the fact that this decision was made by a court, rather than by individual state legislatures, will “cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.” But Murray says she doesn't worry that the court's ruling could hamstring gay rights, and the LGBTQ movement, down the road.

"Not at all. What we’ve seen is a dramatic improvement in the polling numbers – the vast majority of Americans now think that gay marriage is no big deal, that marriage equality is no big deal. And I would be very surprised if there’s any kind of major backlash," Murray says. "I think it’s going to become a non-issue, and that younger folks who’ve grown up knowing gay and lesbian friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members are going to really look back and say, ‘What was the big deal? Why were people so afraid of this? The sun was still rising in the morning and setting in the evening.’"