The Vermont Legislature on Tuesday overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill allowing gay couples to marry, mustering exactly enough votes 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 outcome in the House of Representatives, 100 to 49, 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. 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 April 2009.
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.
Still, opponents of gay marriage have argued that the success of the movement in New England is more political than populist, pointing out that for the most part, the courts rather than the voters have been the main actors. More than two dozen other states have banned gay marriage in recent years after residents of those states voted for restrictions. Several other states have same-sex marriage measures before their legislatures this year, including New York, New Jersey and Washington.In California, voters last fall effectively reversed a court decision that legalized gay marriage when they narrowly approved Proposition 8, which amended the State Constitution to ban such marriages. The California Supreme Court is considering a petition to overturn the ban, but many legal scholars have predicted that it will be upheld.
See Related: MARRIAGE EQUALITY
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