Vermont Poised for Same-Sex Marriage

It appears that Vermont may be poised to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. This is particularly interesting news because if the state does in fact legalize gay marriage, it would make it the first state to do so without being prompted by the courts.

Vermont, which legalized civil unions nine years ago, would join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only other states that allow same-sex marriage. Other states, such as New Hampshire and New Jersey allow civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for this afternoon to consider a bill that the Vermont Senate passed Monday by a vote of 26-4. The House is expected to pass the bill. Republican Governor Jim Douglas has said he opposes the bill, but it’s unclear whether both chambers of the state legislation would vote to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

It’s clear that nationwide the issue of same-sex marriage remains highly divisive. It took an especially public profile during the last election when California voters very narrowly approved a proposition that amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Previously, California had been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a May 2008 ruling by the state Supreme Court legalized the unions. California's high court heard arguments three weeks ago in a case tackling the constitutionality of the controversial ballot proposition. It has not yet issued a decision.

In case you need a quick reminder - the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act effectively bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions by defining marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." It’s clearly time that’s changed.

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s going on in Vermont or finding out what you can do, visit the Freedom to Marry Collaborative. They are doing great work on the ground work in that state and can keep you up-to-date with the latest developments.