In Vermont, a Cloudy Forecast for a Gay Marriage Bill

The Vermont legislature began in earnest the debate over gay marriage on Friday, when a state Senate committee voted unanimously for a bill to allow ...
by | March 23, 2009

The Vermont legislature began in earnest the debate over gay marriage on Friday, when a state Senate committee voted unanimously for a bill to allow same-sex couples to wed. Both houses of the Vermont General Assembly are expected to pass the legislation. What happens after that is far less clear.

The keys will be what Republican Gov. Jim Douglas decides to do and just how many votes Speaker Shap Smith can round up in the House of Representatives. The most recent informed speculation I've seen comes from an article in the Burlington Free Press:

Gov. Jim Douglas opposes same-sex marriage legislation, but won't say whether he'd veto a bill until after it comes out of the Legislature. "He'll wait until the bill arrives," spokeswoman Dennise Casey said, but she criticized the Legislature for diverting its attention from the economy.

The Senate, where Democrats hold a 23-7 majority, would likely have no trouble with a veto override, but the House would have a tougher time. Smith insisted he hadn't counted votes to see if he had the two-thirds majority needed for an override. "I would hope and would expect we don't need one," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Doyle, R-Washington, said he expects the bill to pass the House and Senate but couldn't predict whether it would be by a veto-proof margin. He said, however, that he wouldn't assume Douglas would veto the bill. "My guess is he hasn't closed off the option of not signing it," Doyle said.

Douglas could allow the legislation to become law without his signature. He's taken that route before on controversial pieces of legislation.

The significance of all this: Vermont would be the first state to legalize gay marriage legislatively, without being prompted by a court order. That wouldn't reshape the debate over same-sex nuptials overnight, but it would make it a little harder for social conservatives to use the judicial activism argument. Plus, the long-term success of the gay rights movement depends on victories in statehouses, more so than courthouses.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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