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December 21, 2009

Couple Make History in Essex County

IMGP0136 It's not every day that I receive a press release from the town of Guildhall, the shire town of rural Essex County in the Northeast Kingdom.

With fewer than 300 people, Guildhall is a small town in arguably one of Vermont's more conservative counties.

That's why I was surprised to receive what can only be described as a ebullient email from Town Clerk Laura Wilson announcing Essex County's first same-sex marriage had taken place Saturday at the town's Guild Hall. Vermont's same-sex marriage law went into effect on September 1.

Teri Anderson and Rose Fitzgerald, who both live in Guildhall, were married in the town's Guild Hall. The ceremony was officiated by Barbara Peaslee Smith, Guildhall's Justice of the Peace and witnessed by a group of close friends and neighbors.

The celebration was followed by a solstice party attended by hundreds of loved ones which spilled out onto the historic Guildhall Town Green and included fireworks and a bonfire. Of course, the green isn't so  green in December.

"Our beautiful Guildhall town green is indeed under snow, except in preparation for the post-wedding festivities, the green was shoveled out, in large part, to make room for the big bonfire and fireworks we had in celebration of the wedding," said Wilson. "It was fantastic, with people gathered around the bonfire, playing musical instruments and reciting poetry and stories, in spite of the cold."

IMGP0132 Wilson said Anderson and Fitzgerald did not have a civil union prior to their marriage.

Civil unions have been given a lot of focus in the Vermont media in recent weeks. On Sunday, The Burlington Free Press ran an in-depth story about the 10-year anniversary of the Vermont Supreme Court decision that eventually led to the creation of civil unions. Vermont Public Radio, too, ran a series on the impact that Vermont's civil unions law had nationally, as well as the road it paved for full-scale marriage. The law was enacted earlier this year after the legislature took the historic step of overriding a veto of a same-sex marriage bill by Gov. Jim Douglas. It takes a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate to override a gubernatorial veto.

In the 10 years prior, Guildhall only issued two civil union licenses, Wilson said.  One was for a gay male couple who live in Guildhall, the other was for a lesbian couple from nearby Gorham, NH. Only a handful of civil union licenses were issued in Essex County, according to Wilson, most of them granted in East Haven.

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