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For at least 1 Vermont couple, marriage discrimination goes out with the trash

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MONTPELIER, Vermont — Anyone who thinks the U.S. Supreme Court threw out centuries of discrimination on Friday with its decision to allow gay marriage in all 50 states might appreciate what Nina Beck and Stacy Jolles were up to a couple hours after the decision came down.

"We just dumped our trash," Beck said from their car as the couple returned from beating the Saturday rush at the local solid waste transfer station.

Beck, 59, and Jolles, 57, who own the Dobra Tea shop in Burlington, were among the three couples whose 1997 lawsuit, and a 1999 state Supreme Court ruling in their favor, led the Legislature in 2000 to make Vermont the first state in the country provide marriage-like rights and benefits to same-sex couples. Vermont legalized full same-sex marriage in 2009, becoming the first state to do so without a court order prompting it.

Jolles was the first to hear Friday's news. "I totally called her (Beck) up and said, 'We did it! The Supreme Court has ruled in our favor."

Beck called the decision "wonderful. It's amazing. When we first started this whole fight for marriage, we weren't really convinced it was going to happen. We're just amazed and grateful for all the strong, smart people who have worked on this over the years."

After Friday's errands, Beck and Jolles planned to attend a celebration at Burlington City Hall later in the evening.

Peter Harrigan and Stan Baker were two of the other plaintiffs in the 1997 lawsuit.

"It's been 18 years since that lawsuit we were involved in was first filed," Harrigan, a 53-year-old theater professor at St. Michael's College in Colchester, said Friday. "We have had some bits of victory and celebration along the way, but this one is really just remarkable."

Harrigan said Baker was at an Episcopal Church convention in Salt Lake City on Friday, working for marriage equality in the church. Harrigan also expressed pride in Vermont's pioneering role.

"We're typically a quiet, slow and steady kind of place," Harrigan said Friday of the state. "But it was a nice experience over the years to see that you can have equal rights and benefits and the sky does not fall, tourists don't protest by not coming here ... and the moral fabric does not disintegrate."

Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, called the ruling "one of most significant moments for social justice in modern history ... I am deeply and personally proud that Vermonters led the way toward this long overdue decision," he said in a statement. "Today's Supreme Court ruling is a rejection of fear, and instead an affirmation of hope and equal rights for all."

Former Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, vetoed the 2009 gay marriage bill, only to see the House and Senate muster the two-thirds majorities needed to override him.

"I don't have much reaction," Douglas said Friday. "I didn't support it as a policy matter. But the U.S. Supreme court decides what's constitutional and has rendered a decision so that's what the law is."

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