Vermont legalizes gay marriage with veto override

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | 5:09 p.m. CDT

MONTPELIER, Va — Vermont on Tuesday became the fourth state to allow same-sex marriage when lawmakers voted to override a veto by the governor. It is the first state to legalize same-sex marriage with a legislature's vote rather than through a court ruling.

The House recorded a dramatic 100-49 vote — the minimum needed — to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto. Its vote followed a much easier override vote in the Senate, which rebuffed the Republican governor with a vote of 23-5.

Same-sex marriage laws in the U.S.

Vermont lawmakers on Tuesday voted to override the governor's veto of a bill allow gay men and lesbians to marry. Here's where things stand nationally:


Vermont's vote marked the first time a legislature enacted it into law. Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that marriage couldn't be restricted to unions of a man and a woman, following the lead of Connecticut and Massachusetts, both of which approved it as a result of high court decisions.

California briefly allowed gay marriage last year, but a voter initiative in November repealed it.


In New Hampshire and New Jersey, same-sex couples can enter into civil unions that entail the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but gay-rights activists in those states are pushing for full-fledged marriage rights. New Hampshire's House passed a marriage bill in March, which now awaits a Senate vote. In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine has pledged to sign a gay marriage bill that has been introduced in its legislature.


California, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C., have domestic-partnership laws that extend many of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.


Voters in 29 states have approved state constitutional amendments that ban gay marriage: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin.

Hawaii voters approved a constitutional amendment empowering the Legislature to outlaw same-sex marriage; lawmakers did so in 1998.


Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. government does not recognize same-sex unions, even those that are legal marriages in Massachusetts, Connecticut and several foreign countries.


New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but hasn't allowed them in the state. The Senate majority leader, a gay marriage supporter, says he doesn't have the votes to pass it in his chamber.

The Washington, D.C., council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require the city to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. The legislation requires a final vote next month before becoming law. It also must be reviewed by Congress, which has final say over the city's laws.

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Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples and joins Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa in giving homosexuals the right to marry. Their approval of gay marriage came from the courts.

California briefly allowed gay marriage after its highest court approved the practice, but it was reversed after a public vote.

Tuesday morning's legislative action came less than a day after Douglas issued a veto message saying the bill would not improve the lot of gay and lesbian couples because it still would not provide them rights under federal and other states' laws.

Douglas called the override "not unexpected." He had called the issue of gay marriage a distraction during a time when economic and budget issues were more important.

"What really disappoints me is that we have spent some time on an issue during which another thousand Vermonters have lost their jobs," the governor said Tuesday. "We need to turn out attention to balancing a budget without raising taxes, growing the economy, putting more people to work."

House Speaker Shap Smith's announcement of the vote brought an outburst of jubilation from some of the hundreds packed into the gallery and the lobby outside the House chamber, despite the speaker's admonishment against such displays.

Among the celebrants in the lobby were former Democratic Rep. Robert Dostis and his longtime partner, Chuck Kletecka. Dostis recalled efforts to expand gay rights dating to an anti-discrimination law passed in 1992.

"It's been a very long battle. It's been almost 20 years to get to this point," Dostis said. "I think finally, most people in Vermont understand that we're a couple like any other couple. We're as good and as bad as any other group of people. And now I think we have a chance to prove ourselves here on forward that we're good members of our community."

Dostis said he and Kletecka will celebrate their 25th year together in September.

"Is that a proposal?" Kletecka asked.

"Yeah," Dostis replied. "Twenty-five years together, I think it's time we finally got married."

Craig Bensen, a same-sex marriage opponent who had lobbied unsuccessfully for a nonbinding referendum on the question, said he was disappointed but believed gay marriage opponents were outspent by supporters by a 20-1 margin.

"The other side had a highly funded, extremely well-oiled machine with all the political leadership except the governor pushing to make this happen," he said. "The fact that it came down to this tight a vote is really astounding."

Also in the crowd was Michael Feiner, a farmer from Roxbury and gay marriage supporter, who took a break from collecting sap for maple syrup-making to come to the Statehouse.

"I'm taking a break to come and basically make sure that I was here to witness history," he said.

The House initially passed the bill last week with a 95-52 vote.


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