'The State of Marriage' in Vermont: Two decades of progress

As a growing number of US States legalize marriage for same sex couples with the support of the majority of US citizens, it's important to remember the trailblazers that helped change both the law and public opinion.  Documenting their struggles and achievements is a vital part of preserving our community's history as well as learning from it, and one of the most important chapters took place in Vermont more than a decade ago.  It was there that Mary Bonauto, Beth Robinson, and Susan Murray set out to change the hearts and minds of their state alongside grass roots advocates and other same-sex couples.

Aiming to preserve exactly this chapter is the new film The State of Marriage from co-producers Jeff Kaufman (also the film's director) and Marcia Ross.  GLAAD spoke with Marcia and Jeff about why they felt this was in important film to make, Vermont as a model for social change, and how the couples at the heart of the film have personally inspired them.

GLAAD: What is your film about?

JEFF & MARCIA: The State of Marriage, which tells the story of the two decade-long grassroots battle for marriage equality in Vermont. Led by three fearless and brilliant women, small town attorneys Beth Robinson and Susan Murray and the equally visionary Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Vermont became the first state to grant legal recognition to same sex couples in 2000 when they legalized Civil Unions. Nine years later, it was the first state to make same sex marriage legal, not from a court ruling, but because the legislature overcame tremendous pressure within and from outside the State, and voted to make it law. Beth, Susan & Mary, along with three courageous couples, changed the course of American history by setting a precedent that had not previously been recognized in the United States.

GLAAD: What first inspired you both to make this film?

JEFF: I had a daily radio talk show in Vermont, and knew the people at the center of this struggle. I saw countless examples of personal and political courage that stayed with me over the years, including several conservative legislators who knew they’d lose their political careers if they voted for marriage equality, yet did so with great pride and no regrets.

MARCIA: I had recently returned to college and was working on completing my degree. In a class I was taking, we were reading essays for and against marriage equality as well as pieces by writers like Andrew Sullivan and Evan Wolfson from his book Why Marriage Matters. It became increasingly clear to me that full marriage equality was not just an issue that was vitally important to the LGBT community, but also a human rights issue. Jeff had often talked to me about his experiences in Vermont and his desire to tell this story on film. I felt strongly that we should preserve this extraordinary piece of LGBT history and make sure that the accomplishments of Beth, Susan and Mary, and everyone who played a key role in this drama, were not forgotten. We both agreed that the story, told with the same emotional impact it had on the people in Vermont, also had the opportunity to influence the conversation in other states still working to pass marriage equality laws.

GLAAD: Why do you feel this is an important film to make?

JEFF: We started shooting the documentary last July and completed principle photography just this past February. Every day there was another story in the news about marriage equality battles unfolding in many states. We felt, and continue to feel, an urgency to get this film completed and out there so that it can be used to, as Beth Robinson says, “reach the hearts of people, so we can change their minds.”

MARCIA: I truly believe that in the near future, full marriage equality will be available in all 50 states. Like all social change, there always has to be someone who is willing to stand up, challenge authority and widely held beliefs, and begin the dialogue. We feared that Susan and Mary's accomplishments would be buried in the history books unless their story was more widely told. Also, we have been able to document on film so many people who have been involved with the fight for and against marriage equality.

GLAAD: What did you personally take away from making The State of Marriage?

JEFF: I have been interested in social issues for many years and have produced a number of films for Amnesty International. It is moving and affirming to get to know so many people who dedicate themselves to this kind of change and are willing to risk so much for what they believe.

MARCIA: I had also recently come out of a long-term relationship, and listening to Holly & Lois, Stan & Peter, and Stacy & Nina speak about their love and commitment was incredibly inspiring.  It made me realize, in many ways, what I had missed in my own marriage and what I aspired to in the future.  There wasn’t a day that went by where someone’s story didn’t move me to tears.  It is impossible to contemplate that as far as we have come as a society, people could be denied marriage for both its legal protections and as a basic human right of self-expression and love.

GLAAD: What do hope viewers will ultimately take away from this film?

JEFF & MARCIA: We have been given the gift of tremendous support through our nonprofit sponsors GLAAD, Freedom to Marry, GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders), Amnesty International, and others, and our goal is to produce a film that can be used as part of a grassroots effort to help make marriage equality the law of the land. We believe that full marriage equality is the right of every citizen in the United States We want everyone to have the same experience we had making The State of Marriage, which is to be deeply moved by the stories of these courageous couples who helped blaze the trail for so many others.

The State of Marriage is currently raising funds to complete post-production, which you can help support through the film's IndieGogo campaign.  Check out the film and fundraising trailer below.