Williston women married just after midnight

Sept. 3, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston residents Cathy Michaels and Karen Rounds have simplified their son’s life by becoming one of the state’s first same-sex married couples.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Town Clerk Deb Beckett (left) assists Cathy Michaels (center) and Karen Rounds with their marriage license at Williston Town Hall. The couple was officially married just after midnight on Tuesday.

Evan, 11, has struggled to understand why his parents’ relationship was labeled a civil union while his friends’ parents were referred to as married couples.

“For him to have to explain, ‘Well, my moms are civil unioned’ is difficult for a child,” Rounds said. “There should be no difference. We’re thankful he can now say, ‘My moms are married.’”

Rounds and Michaels were among the first couples to take advantage of a new state law passed earlier this year that permits same-sex marriages. They picked up a license at Williston Town Hall on Monday, then held a ceremony at midnight, timed precisely to coincide with when the law went into effect.

Rounds is chief operating officer at Champlain Valley Cardiovascular Associates in Burlington. Michaels also works there and is also a part-time, stay-at-home mom. The couple live in the Heritage Meadows subdivision.

They first met at what was then called Fletcher Allen Hospital, where Rounds was a critical care nurse and Michaels was a respiratory therapist. They struck up a friendship, which over time turned romantic.

They have been together since 1995. Seven years ago, they were joined in a civil union ceremony at the Old Brick Church in Williston.

Rounds and Michaels said marriage will not change their relationship and will have little effect legally because federal law still does not recognize same-sex unions. But they hope their union and others like them around the state will advance the cause of gay and lesbian equality.

“This sends a clear message that Vermont, as a state, endorses same-sex marriage,” Rounds said. “We’re hoping that more states will follow and the federal government will finally realize the time is well past due.”

“Society is not falling apart because we are getting married,” Michaels added. “I mean, we’ll still go to church every Sunday, volunteer at the food shelf, do missions for our church, go to our son’s tae kwon do lessons, coach basketball, pay our taxes.”

In 2000, Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions between same-sex couples. But many gays and lesbians felt that civil unions did not amount to full equality.

After considerable debate and controversy, state lawmakers this spring passed a law permitting same-sex marriages. Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the measure, but lawmakers overrode the veto by a single-vote margin.

Vermont is one of five states, along with New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa, that permit same-sex marriage. Vermont’s law, however, did not go into effect until Sept. 1. Couples could apply for a marriage license in advance but they could not legally be married until midnight on Tuesday.

Rounds and Michaels visited Williston Town Hall on Monday to fill out a marriage application. They were determined to be first — or at least one of the first, because others around the state also planned midnight ceremonies — same-sex couples to be wed in Vermont.

A simple ceremony

Rev. Joan Newton O’Gorman, pastor of Williston Federated Church, conducted the ceremony at the couple’s home. The few close friends and family members who attended were encouraged to wear clothes appropriate for the late hour. One guest wore a cocktail dress. Another donned pajamas.

Evan began the ceremony by lighting the same candle his parents used during their civil union. The couple recited traditional wedding vows.

Newton O’Gorman said she was honored to conduct the ceremony, which she said marked an historic milestone in the quest for same-gender marriage rights. Yet she also noted that any marriage, regardless of gender, is more than the legal contract.

“No state can legislate the heart,” she said.

After all, she added, Rounds and Michaels had a committed, loving relationship long before their wedding.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett was on hand to sign the marriage license after the ceremony. She emphasized that she was there as a friend and invited guest, not as a town official.

“I generally would not attend a ceremony in order to assure the license was filled out and official,” she wrote in an e-mail. “But it was great, and an honor, to be there to sign off on it as official at 12:00:01 a.m.”

Rounds and Michaels were not the only ones to seek a same-sex marriage license in Williston. On Monday, another couple stopped by Town Hall, Beckett said. Two other couples obtained licenses the following day.

The Associated Press reported that there has been only modest demand for same-sex marriage licenses around Vermont. Some theorized that was because Vermont is no longer the only state to recognize same-sex unions.

In Williston, the number of civil union license applications has dropped over the past nine years. In 2000, 17 licenses were issued, many of them to out-of-state residents, Beckett said. In 2008, the town recorded just one civil union.

Rounds and Michaels will soon celebrate their marriage with a cruise to Nova Scotia. They said the trip will make up for not having a honeymoon after their civil union.

The couple said they hope those still opposed to same sex-marriage will reconsider their stance.

“I think people just need to evaluate us based not on our sexuality but certainly on who we are as people,” Rounds said.

“Yeah, we don’t go around evaluating other people based on their sexuality,” Michaels added. “Why do we have to be judged that way? That’s not who we are. We’re so much more than that.”