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March 23, 2009

Marriage Vote: The Right Side of History

At the end of the day, there was a visible, if not collective, sigh of relief from many Vermont senators after backing a same-sex marriage bill by a 26-4 vote.

"It's your bill now," said a happy Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to his House counterpart Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg). Sears was surrounded by fellow senators and supporters of the measure, all congratulating the Bennington County Democrat for shepherding the bill through the Senate.

The outcome of the hourlong debate was never really in question, only the margin of victory. And, in the end only four senators didn't vote to support the measure: Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans), Sen. Hull Maynard (R-Rutland) and Sen. Robert Starr (D-Essex/Orleans).

These four were expected to vote against the measure, however several other colleagues were question-marks going into the vote, including freshman Matt Choate (D-Caledonia/Orange), veteran Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden/Grand Isle), Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington) and Sen. Phil Scott (R-Washington). In the end, they voted in favor.

Mazza said after the vote that, as a Catholic, he spent several days weighing whether to support same-sex marriage. In the end, as he did nine years ago during the civil unions debate, he found himself on the winning side of history. He even sought counsel from the same priest.

Being on "the right side of history" was a phrase repeated often in the halls of the statehouse today from Democrats and Republicans alike. From the Burlington Free Press' editorial reversing course and supporting same-sex marriage (they opposed civil unions as former editorial page writer Stephen Kiernan notes here) to the lack of anger and public frustration, it was a different stage, a different setting than the civil unions debate of nine years ago.

Senators will take one final procedural vote tomorrow to officially send the bill to the House. The House Judiciary Committee expects to immediately start taking testimony. Floor debate is likely to take place April 2 and 3.

While the 26-4 margin in the Senate is enough to override a gubernatorial veto, in the House such a margin is not expected. The House would need at least 100 votes in support of the bill, a number that even proponents see as unlikely. Democrats in Franklin and Rutland counties as well as parts of the Northeast Kingdom are feeling pressure from constituents and are unlikely to support it.

However, a number of Republicans have come out in support of the measure, including Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset), who is the GOP minority leader.

"The bipartisan nature of today's vote means that we can move away from this issue being a Republican versus Democrat debate," said Beth Robinson, of Vermont Freedom to Marry. Robinson commended Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) for his support of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That panel sent the bill to the Senate floor with a 5-0 vote of support.

Mullin did try to amend the bill and send the entire measure out to a statewide referendum. That failed by a 19-11 margin.

About 50 onlookers, mostly supporters, crowded into the Senate chamber, listening quietly as many senators stood to urge their colleague to support the bill.

Sens. Brock and Maynard were the only two who stood up and vocally opposed the measure. Brock said he, like Pres. Barack Obama, Vice Pres. Joe Biden, and Gov. Jim Douglas believed marriage was between a "man and a woman" and that civil unions afforded gays and lesbians equal treatment under the law. 

Sen. Maynard said he was voting against the bill for all of those who believed the issue had not yet had a full public airing and debate.

Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), the key sponsor of the Senate version, tossed aside eight pages of notes to "speak from the heart" in an effort to urge his colleagues to support the bill.

Campbell said marriage needed to be inclusive, and into its fold brought people who were committed to upholding the rights and responsibilities of marriage, as well as the love it takes to make it work.

He took offense at some opponents labeling gays and lesbians "those people."

"You know who those they people are? They are our policemen. They are our firefighters. They're teachers; they're garbagemen; they're the guy who plows the street," said Campbell. "They are our children, our sisters, our brothers. That's what they are. They are human beings and as such and as it's said in this bill they should be treated equally."

While that brought plenty of nods and smiles from supporters, the speech that brought several onlookers to tears, however, was President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham). After reminding colleagues that civil unions was created in response to vocal outrage to same-sex marriage bill nine years ago, he said he found it hard to look his gay and lesbian neighbors in the eye as they dropped off their kids together at school.

"I was basically saying that my marriage had more value than their relationship," said Shumlin.

As to the argument that the bill was being rushed, Shumlin took on opponents directly, noting that when
the majority confers rights to the minority, it's easy to say that it's being rushed or that more testimony is needed.

"It's never speedy to confer rights to those who simply want to say 'I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you,'" said Shumlin.

That simple summation of the bill's essence brought tears to the eyes of several onlookers in the upper gallery (where I was stationed), and some audible sobs.

Moments later the Senate took its vote. And, the rest as they say, is history.

Thank God (and yes I did reference God in a pro Gay marriage response) that we live in a state the governs with people and our lives in mind. It is amazing to me that people can still feel threatened by two individuals wanting to spend the rest of their lives together....On a side note Church leaders should remember that they don't have to host a wedding of a Gay couple if their congregation somehow objects. When my wife and I were married we spent several hours being interviewed by members of the congregation and church leaders to be sure that our beliefs and love were in line with the church's...I can't imagine that any couple would want to be married in such a church in the first place...This is about equal rights for all.

When I posted my own story on the debate and vote in the Senate on my blog, The 'Skeeter Bites Report, little did I realize how much interest it would generate.

Within hours after I posed my article on the Senate Judiciary Committee's unanimous vote in favor of the same-gender marriage bill early Monday morning, picked it up -- and sent my blog's visitor counter soaring. As of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 24), more than ,000 hits have been recorded on my blog's visitor counter, the biggest 24-hour spike in the nearly 3 1/2 years since I launched my site.

I found it highly ironic that Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin County) was the most outspoken senator against the bill -- ironic, for Brock is Vermont's only currently-serving African-American state senator, and the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. John Campbell (D-Windham County), had invoked the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling (Loving v. Virginia) that struck down laws banning interracial marriages in his passionate floor speech in favor of the measure.

How Brock could remain unmoved by Campbell's recollection of the Loving decision is utterly beyond my comprehension, given that Brock is a direct beneficiary of the high court's ruling: His own marriage would not have been recognized in 16 states were it not for Loving.

Damn typo! I meant to say that my blog received over 5,000 hits.

I'm an antiquarian bookseller and when we get an old book in good shape but missing a book jacket, but we have a good book jacket from the same edition that we took off a damaged book, we then put the good jacket on the good book, and we call that "marrying" the jacket to the book. Because they belong together, ya know. But they didn't start out together. Once they were separate, but now they're married. If a book and a book jacket can get married, why not two men, or two women?
This argument over words is really silly, isn't it? It's probably too late to call EVERY civil marriage a civil union and leave marriage to the churches, so let's just stop worrying about the words, OK? Because religion has no say in civil policy and God's voice has not been heard in the land on this subject. There are far too many human beings stepping up to tell us God's view and how God defines a marriage, which is a lot of the problem, since not all these people agree on what God thinks. So Government has to pay attention to reason and it must do what is right for all of us. All of us. Without worrying about dictionary definitions (which change all the time, anyway.) You know? I'm proud of Vermont for making progress on this marriage thing.

I would just like to say: If you look up how many states ban same sex marriage, what advantages is it going to give? They can't even file a joint tax return with federal government

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