Vermont has long been a popular destination for same-sex couples. The state passed the nation’s first civil union law in 2000. Nine years later Vermont became the fourth state to establish gay marriage and the first one to do it by legislative vote rather than judicial order.
But it was a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 — United States v. Windsor — that has led to a spike of same-sex weddings here during the past year.
In a 5-4 decision issued last June, the court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act, a law banning the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, unconstitutional. DOMA, signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, prevented same-sex couples considered legally married in their states of residence from receiving hundreds of benefits and protections available to heterosexual couples under federal law.
At the time of the decision, details regarding eligibility for federal benefits for same-sex couples were yet to be worked out. Still, many couples decided to marry in anticipation of taking advantage of them.
Willie Docto, president of the Vermont Gay Tourism Association, with his partner, Greg Trulson, own Moose Meadow Lodge in Duxbury, a popular venue for same-sex weddings.
Their wedding business increased exponentially after the Windsor decision.
“We normally do 20 to 25, but last year we did 45,” Docto said. “It basically doubled. We saw an immediate increase after the Supreme Court ruling. We booked 11 weddings in the first 11 days.”
Many of the guests who get married at Moose Meadow Lodge live in states where same-sex marriages are illegal.
The federal benefits provided to married couples, from income and estate-tax benefits to adoption and immigration benefits, make it worthwhile to get married, even if their marriages aren’t recognized once they return to their home states, Docto said.
“It’s been great for tourism, but it’s also been great for couples,” Docto said. “Now, it really has meaning for them. Before it was more symbolic. Now, they’ll see some real benefits.”