The Vermont House voted 100-49 today April 7 to override a veto of the equal marriage rights bill, following the Senate's 23 to 5 override vote Tuesday morning.
The overrides make Vermont the fourth state where same-sex couples will be able to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples --following Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa.
All the drama around today's votes—and there was plenty—took place in the House. The Senate, which had passed the bill last week with a 26-4 vote, was expected to easily override Republican Governor Jim Douglas' veto, and it did.
Meanwhile, the Burlington Free Press was reporting its headcount showed the tally appeared to be one vote shy of 100 needed—if all 150 legislators are present—to override the veto. Various members spoke during discussion of the veto vote, most of the opposing the equal marriage rights bill. The roll call began, with each legislator calling out his or her "Yes" or "No" vote as their names were called. For the first few minutes, the tallies were literally tic for tac. Then, about mid-way through the vote, the pro-override votes began to pile up. The only question was whether they would reach the magic mark of 100.
At 11:03, the Speaker of the House, his voice cracking, announced the vote: 100 for, 49 against. The veto had been defeated; the bill would become law.
There was a brief eruption of applause in the chamber, and the House heard from a few members who wanted to explain their votes. But history was done. The first state to ever enact civil union legislation had now enacted an equal marriage law.
Beth Robinson, head of Vermont Freedom to Marry and a key leader for equal marriage rights in Vermont for the past 10 years, called the vote a "nail-biter."
"We thought we had the votes as the roll-call began, but you never really know until the vote comes out of people's mouths," said Robinson. So uncertain was the outcome, Robinson had prepared both a victory and a defeat speech.
But even in victory, said Robinson Tuesday afternoon, "we can't say it's over until after the 2010 elections."
"We did something phenomenal," she said, referring to the winning a two-thirds majority vote to override the veto. "But a lot of legislators stuck their necks out and we have an obligation to make sure that every single one that wants to go back [ to the legislature ] is back."
Hawkeyes on the governor now
Iowa is more like Massachusetts than it is California, and that's probably a good thing for same-sex marriage. The state constitution cannot be changed at the drop of a hat. However, it can undo last week's Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage and the political winds are blowing every which way in the Hawkeye State right now.
In Iowa, Massachusetts, California and Connecticut, the state supreme courts ruled the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection means gay couples must be able to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples. So opponents of same-sex marriage in those states have had only one recourse: change the constitution.
That's a relatively easy thing to do in California—collect enough signatures and you can put an amendment on the ballot that same year. That's what anti-gay activists did there last year.
But in Connecticut, there is no initiative process. And in Iowa, as in Massachusetts, a constitutional amendment must pass two consecutive sessions of the state legislature and then be approved by voters.
"Opposition set in in about one nanosecond," said Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney on the Massachusetts case, which was decided in November 2003. In that case, Goodridge v. Department, the state's high court gave the legislature six months before ordering enactment of the ruling. Anti-gay activists mounted a fast and furious campaign to get approval in the legislature but, after numerous votes, ultimately failed to clear the hurdles in Massachusetts.
So far, the early reaction in Iowa—compared to Massachusetts—has been a happy yawn and back to business. The Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal told reporters even before the decision was issued that it was "exceedingly unlikely" the legislature would take up gay marriage this year. Deadlines for the introduction of such legislation have already passed.
Once the decision was released, Gronstal and the House Speaker, both Democrats, issued a joint statement, saying that, "treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency."
But, of course, anti-gay activists have never really stopped fighting same-sex marriage, no matter how many times, or how badly, they have lost any battle. The Quad-City Times of Davenport reported April 3 that some were hoping the push the issue onto the legislative agenda. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a national right-wing political group, issued a statement April 3, urging Iowa voters to contact their state legislators "and urge them to move quickly to pass a constitutional amendment protecting marriage." And, even before the decision was released, a website went up by a group called "Let Us Vote Iowa," prodding voters to call their state legislators "repeatedly" and tell them to "vote for the Iowa Marriage Amendment, even if it takes a special session."
The Des Moines Register reported Tuesday that "House Democrats decided in a private meeting that they don't want to vote this year on whether to start the constitutional amendment process."
Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, issued a statement saying he would "thoroughly review" the decision "before reacting to what it means for Iowa." Culver signed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007, but he has also stated his opposition to same-sex marriage and, according to the Ames Tribune, said in January that he would seek quick action in the legislature to reverse in pro-gay marriage decision.
"We'll do whatever it takes to protect marriage between a man and a woman," said Culver, according to the Tribune, including a special legislative session.
U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican representing the western third of the state, told the Ames Tribune he would challenge Culver for re-election in 2010 if the governor fails to support an amendment effort.
And by Tuesday, the Register was publishing an article letting readers know that voters could vote in 2010 to call for a constitutional convention where a ban on same-sex marriage could be proffered.
"If voters decide by a simple majority to hold the convention and delegates agree on a marriage amendment, it could in theory be ready for Iowans to consider as early as a special election in 2011," reported the Register Tuesday. The Register is the newspaper that published an article on how to impeach judges the day after a district court judge ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, on April 7, the governing council of the District of Columbia voted 12-0 to recognize marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples in other states.
© 2009 Keen News Service