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Vermont Legislature gives final OK to gay marriage

Lawmakers override the governor's veto of a bill allowing same-sex marriage. Vermont is now one of four states allowing gay marriage -- and the first to do it by legislative, rather than court, action.

April 08, 2009|Jessica Garrison

The Vermont Legislature voted Tuesday to permit same-sex couples to marry -- making it the first state in the union to legalize gay marriage through a vote of lawmakers rather than a court action.

The vote came just four days after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled to permit gay marriage, and brings to four the number of states that allow it.

"The emotion that is going around this building right now -- how good people feel -- it's palpable," said state Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, who led his colleagues Tuesday morning in overriding Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' veto of the legislation. "It's not often that you get in your career to be able to fight for someone's civil rights."

In his veto message, Douglas said that he supported civil unions, which Vermont became the first state to bestow in 2000, but that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. The Vermont House voted 100 to 49 to override him -- the bare minimum needed.

The law will allow gay marriages in Vermont beginning in September. They are now legal in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and will begin in Iowa later this month.

After the vote, the chambers erupted in applause.

Opponents of gay marriage condemned the vote, and signaled that they would launch a public relations counterattack with television ads in markets including Iowa and much of the Northeast, where New Hampshire lawmakers are poised to vote on a gay marriage law.

"Today is a truly sad day for Vermont and this nation," said Brian S. Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage.

Brown said that he hoped the ad campaign, which he said would eventually include more than $1.5 million in airtime, would "highlight how same-sex marriage undermines the core civil rights of those who believe in the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman."

The ad, made available to The Times, presents a multiethnic front. It begins with a worried-looking blond woman declaring, "There is a storm gathering . . . and I am afraid." Another woman steps forward: "I am a parent, helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is OK." Then an African American man declares that "there is hope: a rainbow coalition . . . coming together in love to protect marriage. Join us."

Gay rights activists, however, were thrilled Tuesday, and hailed the vote in Vermont, along with another action that day -- a decision by the Washington, D.C., City Council to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.

"This is a week we all will remember: first Iowa, then Vermont, then D.C.," Jennifer Pizer, marriage director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. "We have turned another critical corner in this equal rights movement."

The events came as the California Supreme Court considers whether to overturn Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that banned gay marriage.

The measure amended the California Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, overriding a state Supreme Court ruling last May that had allowed them. During the five months in which gay marriage was legal in California, more than 18,000 same-sex couples tied the knot.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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