Jetter: On the meaning of family

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(HOST) As the Vermont House and Senate voted to override Governor Douglas’ veto of the same-sex marriage bill, commentator Alexis Jetter found herself reflecting on  the last ten years and the meaning of family.

(JETTER) Ten years ago almost to the day, I wrote my first commentary for VPR. Back then, my daughter was nearly three, and my son was not yet born.

I had gone to the Vermont State Supreme Court’s hearing on gay marriage, and was awaiting the decision. I was thinking about the world my son would be born into – and the world my daughter already knew.

Ten years ago, much like today, the governor of Vermont didn’t like the idea of gay marriage. So the attorneys for the state tried to come up with good arguments to stop it.  "This is about protecting children," one attorney for the state asserted in court. "The institution of marriage is really about procreation."

But if gays and lesbians married, she said, then what would stop a brother from marrying his sister? Or an elderly woman from marrying her adult daughter?

That day, I spoke to a woman who was organizing a referendum campaign against gay marriage.  She wanted what was best for the kids, she said. And I thought to myself, "So do I."

Stacy and Nina were part of the original lawsuit, asking for marriage equality. Because they weren’t married, Stacy wasn’t allowed into the emergency room when Nina gave birth to their son.  And when the baby nearly died of a heart defect, the doctor wouldn’t tell Stacy how he was doing.  He died at two and a half.

"We think about him all the time," Stacy said. "He clearly viewed both of us as his parents."

Eventually we won that court decision, and Nina and Stacy had another child.  I saw them rush in late to the press conference, their newborn son in their arms.

Last week in Montpelier, I saw Nina and her son again. That little baby is now nine.

My son is nine too, and he has a mind of his own: "I never really realized how my family was different from so many others," he wrote recently. "I don’t feel any different. Some people say that families like mine are bad for the kids. But I go to school, I eat, I play, just like any other kid."

Two weeks ago my daughter testified on her own in Montpelier. "It is time" she said, "to accept and honor families like mine."

So here’s what I’ve learned in ten years.  This is about our children.  So they can grow up just like they are: proud, happy, independent, almost fearless.  They are their own best argument against the view that gay and lesbian parents are bad for children, and that same-sex marriage undermines stability.

The final lines of that commentary I wrote ten years ago come back to me today:  even though I worry about exposing my family to hostility, we’re going to have to hit the streets of our town: me, my life partner, our little girl and our son, and say: there’s nothing second best about our love.

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