Our constitution, which I took an oath to uphold, grants all Vermonters inalienable rights, one of them the freedom to pursue happiness.
None of my rights, according to the constitution, can be denied on account of religious sentiment, whether my own or the religious sentiments of others. The purpose of religion, in my mind, is to inform me on how to live my life, not to tell others how to live theirs.
“An Act to Protect Religious Freedom and Promote Equality in Civil Marriage,” just passed by the Legislature, is not simply about gay and lesbian marriage.
It is about all marriages in Vermont. Conflicting testimony from religious leaders made it clear that there needs to be an unambiguous separation of church and state. In November, my wife Cherie and I will celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. How fortunate we were to bring family and friends together for a public profession of our commitment to each other. Yet, if the religion of my upbringing had prevailed in our legislative debate, our marriage would have been prohibited on the basis of one of us having been previously married. How many heterosexual marriages in Vermont would be in jeopardy if one religious argument or another had prevailed in our legislative deliberations?
Unity is assured in our constitution under the common benefit clause, meaning we are all entitled to equal treatment as Vermonters.
Freedom and unity are core values for all of us. We exercise our freedom in self-determination and self-expression, and our unity in respect for privacy and in looking out for each other.
Self-determination for me is demonstrated in my making unencumbered choices: where to live, what career to pursue, whom I shall marry.
Self-expression is experienced in my being true to myself, in saying I am what I am, and acting accordingly.
Respect for privacy and looking out for each other are Vermont values of not interfering in how each of us lives his or her life, as long as it is not harmful to others, and yet, all of us rallying to each other’s defense if person or property is at risk.
There are thousands of Vermonters who have been at risk for too long, who have been denied their rights of self-expression and self-determination.
In the spirit of freedom and unity, it is time now to embrace our brothers and sisters … to make marriage available to all Vermonters.