Vermont Legislature Makes Same-Sex Marriage Legal
MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering one more vote than needed to preserve the measure.
The step makes Vermont the first state to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling. The law goes into effect Sept. 1.
Approval had been expected in the Senate, where the vote was 23 to 5.
But the outcome in the House of Representatives was not clear until the final moments of a long roll call, when Rep. Jeff Young, a Democrat who voted against the bill last week, reversed his position. In the end the vote was 100 to 49, just slightly more than the required two-thirds majority of members present.
After the final tally, cheers erupted in both legislative chambers of the State House and in the hallways outside, and several lawmakers on both sides of the debate looked stunned.
“It’s a great day for equality,” said State Representative Margaret Cheney, a Democrat from Norwich. “People saw this as an equality issue, and we’re proud that Vermont has led the way without a court order to provide equal benefits.”
The override came days after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that not permitting gay marriage there was unconstitutional. Vermont, which in 2000 became the first state to adopt civil unions for gay couples, now brings the number of states allowing same-sex marriage to four; the others are Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa.
The battle over the issue has largely been centered in the Northeast. Massachusetts became the first state in the country to make same-sex marriage a reality in 2004 when its supreme court ruled that it was required under the state’s Constitution, which contains an equal-protection clause. Connecticut followed in October 2008. .
Two other states in the region recognize civil unions — New Jersey and New Hampshire — and gay rights advocates have waged a campaign in hopes of making same-sex marriage legal in every state in New England by 2012. Before Tuesday, Vermont, like New Jersey and New Hampshire, had also allowed civil unions, a step that gay rights advocates say helps ease the transition to laws allowing same-sex marriage. Just last month, the House of Representatives in New Hampshire voted narrowly to approve a bill to legalize such marriages, which moves to the state Senate and could be considered there as early as this week.
But organizers in Maine and Rhode Island have opposed the civil-union approach, which they say makes same-sex couples appear unequal. Instead, they have sought to change the laws directly. In Rhode Island, for example, gay rights advocates plan to wait until 2011, when the Republican governor, Donald L. Carcieri, who opposes gay marriage, leaves office.[...]