Vermont this morning became the 4th state to allow marriage for same-sex couples, as both the Vermont House and Senate voted to override the veto of Governor Jim Douglas (R-Out-of-touch). By doing so, Vermont became the first state in the country to enact marriage equality without being required to do so by court order.
As expected the Vermont state Senate easily exceeded the required 2/3rds requirement for a veto override, voting 23 to 5 shortly after 10 a.m. this morning. This vote reflected the earlier 26-4 vote in favour of the measure in the Senate. (One Senate Republican – Bill Doyle - who had voted for the bill switched to support the Governor’s veto – presumably in solidarity with his governor, while 2 of the bills supporters were not able to be there for the vote, including Ed Flanagan, the only openly gay member of the Senate, and Phil Scott, one of the Republican supporters.)
The real drama was in the House of Representatives which just after 11 a.m. (eastern) voted 100 to 49 to override, barely exceeding the required 2/3rds.
(More details to follow soon)
The House vote was in question up to the last minute, following last week’s 95-52 vote in favour of the bill – short of the 2/3rd s margin. The final margin came when 3 of Democratic representatives who had voted against the bill the first time around sided with the majority and supported the override, while another Democratic opponent was absent
The override action happened quickly – after the House gave initial approval last Thursday and final approval on Friday, the Senate met in special session on Monday afternoon to approve changes that the House had made. The Governor vetoed immediately after final passage on Monday. The Senate and House both took up the override on Tuesday morning.
In addition to being a huge victory for equality for all, the successful veto override was a huge defeat for Governor Douglas, who has been skirmishing with the heavily Democratic legislature since the session began in January.
The Governor continually criticized the Democratic leaders (Senate President Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith) for bringing forward the bill, accusing them of ignoring the economic situation.
This victory may embolden the Democrats in the legislature as they fight back against the Governor's attacks on state employees, social programs, education, and progressive taxation in the remaining weeks of the legislature.
The breakdown by party on the override vote:
In the House:
Democrats: Y - 87, N - 7, Absent -1
Republicans: Y - 6, N - 42
Progressives: Y - 5, N- 0
Independents: Y - 2, N - 0
In the Senate:
Democrats: Y - 21, N - 1, Absent 1
Republicans: Y - 2, N - 4, Absent - 1
Major credit for the victory needs to be given to the phenomenal Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force who have been organizing for marriage equality for more than a decade. This victory didn't come about overnight, nor was it a top down effort. It took years of careful strategizing, grassroots education and organizing, mobilizing public opinion and political pressure. The victory is part of a series of actions going back more than a decade, even prior to the filing of the historic lawsuit that resulted in the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court ruling in Baker v. Vermont (which led to the civil union legislation in 2000). Organizers never stopped even after the civil union law was passed, recognizing that it was an important first step toward true equality.
This organizing effort helped create an environment where there was strong majority support in the state for marriage equality (58%-39% in a statewide poll in January). Virtually every major newspaper in the state editorialized strongly in favour of marriage equality. Groups of lawyers, parents, clergy, youth, educators and others were created and did extensive outreach.
To get a flavour of the type of leadership that led to passage, check out this great profile ofBeth Robinson in the Burlington weekly Seven Days
The law will take effect September 1st, so couples looking to plan a Vermont marriage should start planning now for a fall foliage wedding. Under the law out of state couples can be married in the state without a residency requirement.
Under the law, marriages can be performed by either a justice of the peace or a clergy person recognized by the state. (I may have to run for Justice of the Peace again -- I loved being able to marry straight friends when I was a JP before -- it would be extraordinary to be able to marry gay couples as well,