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Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage    by David Moats order for
Civil Wars
by David Moats
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Civil Wars : A Battle for Gay Marriage puts a human face on skirmishes fought in courts, from pulpits, and through the media. It's a blow by blow account of what went on in Vermont (under Governor Howard Dean) at the turn of the millennium, put in context by the author via biographical vignettes of the many players involved, as well as charming word sketches of the (mostly rural) places in which these clashes occurred.

In Ontario, Canada, the right to same-sex marriage was upheld last year without great fanfare and with somewhat of a ho-hum, about time reaction from the majority. I was curious to understand why passions were so high in Vermont, and David Moats does an excellent, and engrossing, job of laying it all out. In particular, he shows the soul-searching done by individuals and what was lost by many who followed their convictions. Though clearly a supporter of gay marriage, Moats (a Vermont editor) reports objectively on events, and in fact won the Pulitzer for his coverage of the topic. Along the way, the author does a wonderful job of painting his love of his state, and presenting the appeal of the Vermont lifestyle.

It all began with a case argued before the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in December 1999 to give same-sex couples the 'benefits and protections' associated with marriage, but left it up to the Legislature to decide on whether or not to do this as part of the marriage laws. This in a state that epitomizes the ideal of 'small-town life'. The Legislature pushed for the compromise of a 'domestic partnership law'. Those in favor saw it as a 'moral imperative' and an issue of civil rights. Those against felt that it violated their religious principles and attacked the institution of marriage. After Governor Dean signed the bill, he faced a strong 'Take Back Vermont' backlash in the 2000 election.

Whatever your feelings on the issue, I recommend that you read Civil Wars for its tolerant perspective on all parties. It's an important account of 'the way that democracy must grow with the understanding of the people, allowing wider scope for the expanding claims of human compassion.'

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