Gay Marriage Coast to Coast: In Upper Valley, Many Celebrate

By Maggie Cassidy
Valley News Staff Writer

White River Junction — As Vermont Law School professor Jackie Gardina absorbed the news Friday morning that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of national marriage equality, she received a text from her wife, Lauren Bassing, who is traveling cross-country.

“She said when I went to bed in Ohio last night, I wasn’t married to you,” Gardina said. “When I woke up today, we were.” 

The high court’s 5-4 ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage was greeted with relief by the Upper Valley’s LBGT community. Same-sex couples here have enjoyed the right to marry for years, but no guarantees that their marriages and the rights associated with them would be recognized in 13 other states.

“I never thought that in my lifetime that this would happen,” said North Hartland’s Raquel Ardin, who married her partner of nearly 40 years in 2009. “It’s great news.”

At the same time, most cautioned that more needs to be done: Gardina noted the ruling does not address workplace or housing discrimination.

“I think what’s important to remember is that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Grantham’s Jack Shultz, an organizer behind the Upper Valley Rainbow Connection, a meetup and resource group. “This is exciting and it gives us cause to celebrate, absolutely, but it’s important to remember that transgender rights, for example, are really far behind.”

While celebrations erupted in the streets of metropolitan areas around the country, the reactions in the Upper Valley were more muted: The ruling prompted a brief announcement at Tuckerbox Cafe, where customers responded with cheers, and the storefront mannequins at Revolution a few doors down soon draped in rainbow-colored outfits.

A short drive away, Ardin sat in the sun outside the VA medical center with her wife, Lynda DeForge. Although news commentators noted hasty progress in the American gay rights movement over the last 50 years, the road to Friday’s ruling has been long for those traveling it, including Ardin and DeForge, both Navy veterans, who decades ago would tell strangers that they were cousins.

“This was back when there was a witch hunt,” Ardin said.

In 2010, they were connected to a lawyer at GLAD — Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders — because higher-ups in the Postal Service wouldn’t allow DeForge to take time off to care for Ardin, who also had concerns about being able to transfer disability payments to Ardin.

Uncomfortable with the limelight and not very active in politics, the couple became plaintiffs in one of several lawsuits challenging the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same sex marriages performed in states where it had been legalized.

The Supreme Court heard a different case than Ardin’s and DeForge’s challenging DOMA in 2013, striking down the law as unconstitutional and allowing the federal government to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples.

Ardin and DeForge said they were confident that the momentum would continue in favor of same-sex marriage this week, but they were nevertheless relieved when they learned the news from a reporter Friday morning. They’re hopeful that as the movement continues, it will help other gays and lesbians to feel safe and comfortable coming out of the closet.

“I’m thinking this is not just for me,” Ardin said. “I just want everyone to know this is OK. I’m just a normal, everyday person, and it’s OK to be who you are.”

“It’s changing, the whole U.S. is changing now,” said DeForge. “And it should.”

Shultz, of the Upper Valley Rainbow Connection, and his husband Kris Shultz shared similar sentiments. They previously lived in Washington State, where they were recognized as domestic partners before the state adopted same-sex marriage.

In deciding on Dartmouth College for graduate school, they said they limited their selection of possible schools to those in states where same-sex marriage is recognized. Once ready to move, they took special precautions on their cross-country trip here, including having a “power of attorney” document with them at all times.

The ruling, Kris Shultz said, “doesn’t magically fix everything,” and there is still a “fear of potential backlash,” including so-called bathroom bills targeting transgender people.

Groups opposed to same-sex marriage denounced the ruling on Friday, including New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Action, the legislative advocacy arm of a nonprofit public policy organization that says it’s “working to promote strong New Hampshire families.”

Many who hoped the court would have gone the other way said that the decision should have been made on a state-by-state basis through legislation and referendums, and Executive Director Bryan McCormack echoed those ideals.

“We are severely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s lack of respect for the millions of citizens across the United States who believe in traditional marriage,” he said in a statement. “This was not the Supreme Court’s decision to make, however, we still remain hopeful. We remain hopeful in the health and goodness that marriage between a man and a woman brings to our state and our nation.”

Those in favor, including David Fairbanks Ford of the Main Street Museum, called the decision “inspiring.”

“(It’s) inspiring to me because the Main Street Museum in the old Lena’s Lunch building was one of the sites were some of the first meetings about civil unions took place,” he said through online messaging. “These are the days of the Vermont queer or GLBTQ Town Hall meetings that were held annually across the state.

“Whether these decisions are decided legislatively — as we did in Vermont — or through the courts, they bring us into alignment with the highest aspirations and idealism of our Constitution and of our nation.”

Gardina said she was confident that the decision is “on the right side of history.”

“For the younger generation,” she said, “this is almost an, ‘Of course. What took you so long?’ ”

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