Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hooray, Vermont!

I'm not technically a Vermonter, but my father's family has lived in Vermont for seven or eight generations--going back to before the American Revolution--so I've always considered myself a Vermonter (kind of like someone who is half-Irish considers themselves Irish). So allow me to be very proud of my fellow Vermonters, who became the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage without a court fight:
MONTPELIER — House Speaker Shap Smith’s voice choked with emotion as he read the vote count from the podium: 100-49.

By the narrowest of margins, the Legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto Tuesday and Vermont became the fourth state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry, and the first to do so without a court order.

“It really is a historic moment,” Smith said afterward.

“It means everything. It means we’re going to get married,” the Rev. Nancy Vogele, an Episcopal minister from White River Junction, said after the vote. She plans to wed her partner, Cheryl Elinsky, on Sept. 1, the day the law takes effect.
In some ways, the action in Vermont is more important for marriage equality than the legalization in states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Iowa because it was done by the legislature and not by the courts. That means that the people of Vermont decided, through their elected representatives, that this was the right thing to do. Opponents of same-sex marriage frequently say that those states who have legalized it have done so illegitimately because the decisions have come down through the courts, not the legislature.

(Although Massachusetts is a little different; while the original legalization of same-sex marriage came because of a Supreme Judicial Court decision, the legislature has voted on the issue twice and opponents of same-sex marriage had so little support in the legislature (less than 25%) that they couldn't put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.)

The Vermont legislature's vote to override the governor's veto is even more impressive when put into the context of Vermont's history. Apparently the legislature almost never overrides a governor's veto:
MONTPELIER – The votes in the first veto override in nearly two decades were still echoing in the Statehouse as pundits and politicians started talking about what the political implications will be in a state with a deeply divided government.

Including the gay marriage bill that was overridden and made into law over Gov. James Douglas' objections Tuesday, Douglas has vetoed 15 bills since taking office six years ago. During that time, although the Legislature has been controlled by Democrats most of that time, it has never been able to override one of his vetoes.

And in the state's entire history only seven times have one of the 134 vetoes by governors been overturned. The last time was a veto of a budget bill by Gov. Madeleine Kuinin in 1990.
This is only the seventh time that Vermont's governor has been vetoed in over 200 years of history? That makes the legislature's vote that much more gutsy and impressive. Hopefully other states (New Hampshire, for instance) will now follow Vermont's lead.

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