An interest in notions of accountability, justice, and fairness has animated my work over forty years as a journalist, a teacher, and a civil liberties advocate. I started the research for Equal Is Equal, Fair Is Fair after retiring as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, a job I had begun in 2004. Twelve years later, I felt a need to untangle a lifetime of questions about the concept of equity — the notion that we’re all created equal — and about government’s role in ensuring we’re treated fairly.
Vermonters have grappled with issues of fairness and equity throughout the state’s history. In Equal Is Equal, Fair Is Fair, I focus specifically on three topics, rooted in these issues, that have dominated Vermont’s politics during the last twenty-five years: school funding, same-sex marriage, and health care. Vermont has made landmark advances in two of the three while gaining impressive, though less than satisfying, results in the third. The inability to revamp health care has been disappointing. The reality is that there is often a wide gulf between believing in equity and acting to make the belief real.
Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy, who wrote the opinion in the same-sex marriage case in 1999, reflected several years later on the court’s action that led to equal marriage rights:
[T]he Baker opinion was intended to resonate with every Vermonter. For in our constitutional system, every Vermonter is a participant and we all live in the same house. We will know we have built well when — in the words of the poet — “underneath that roof there was no distinction of persons, but one family only, one heart, one hearth, and one household.”
A commitment to equity, as enshrined in Vermont’s state constitution, forces us to confront and, we may hope, to act on the discomfort that while we may all be in this together, some have still been left out. When we act to include everyone, we show that in our society, everyone does indeed count. Equal is equal, and fair is fair.
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— Allen Gilbert