In Vermont, Clarity, or Not, on Gay Marriage

Lots has happened as Vermont lawmakers have debated gay marriage the last few days, but we still don't have much of a better idea ...
by | March 26, 2009

Lots has happened as Vermont lawmakers have debated gay marriage the last few days, but we still don't have much of a better idea whether same-sex nuptials will gain legal recognition.

The state Senate approved the gay marriage bill by a surprisingly lopsided margin, 26-4. As expected, the margin was large enough to overcome a potential gubernatorial veto.

That margin gained new importance when Gov. Jim Douglas announced yesterday that he would veto the legislation. Douglas never gave any indication that he supported the bill -- just the opposite -- but there were some signs he might allow the measure to become law without his signature. Now, the only remaining question is whether the House also will approve the law by a veto-proof margin.

And, Douglas himself seemed to answer the question in announcing his veto. He said, according to the Burlington Free Press, "I'm sure that legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they didn't have the votes to override a veto."

The governor says they have the votes. Case closed, right?

I'm not so sure. First, it helps to understand the context of Douglas' statement. He's opposing the gay marriage bill without really saying a ton about the merits of the legislation. His argument is that legislators shouldn't be debating such a divisive issue in the middle of an economic crisis.

So, I read his statement on the veto override as more of jab at the legislature than anything else. In effect, he's saying that surely they wouldn't have wasted our time on this controversial subject without actually being able to pass the bill.

That, of course, doesn't necessarily mean the bill will fail. In the Senate, 96% of Democrats (22 out of 23) and 43% of Republicans voted for the bill (3 out of 7). If both parties support the legislation at the same rates in the House and if, say, six of the seven independents and third-party members vote yes (some are members of the Vermont Progressive Party, so they seem likely to be supportive), then the measure would end up with 117 votes. That's 17 more than it needs to override the veto. Sounds like a comfortable margin, right?

However, there are signs that opposition is greater in the House than the Senate. From the Burlington Free Press:

Supporters of the legislation have privately said they doubt they have that. However, George Schiavone, a former Republican representative from Shelburne who is lobbying members to vote against the bill, said he's not so sure. "It's within shooting distance," he said of an override.

If I had to guess, I'd say the bill passes 102-48. Undecideds broke in favor of the legislation in the Senate, so maybe they will in the House too. But what do I know? I've never even been to Montpelier. The drama should conclude next week.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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