Editors' Note: Guest blogger Marty Rouse is the National Field Director of the Human Rights Campaign. Before joining HRC, Rouse served as Campaign Director for MassEquality, the state group that successfully defended marriage equality in Massachusetts. Prior to that he recruited and trained legislative candidates in Vermont.
I just watched live streamed video of 95 out of 150 members of the Vermont House, Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, married, divorced, single, gay, straight, voting minutes ago for marriage equality.
Most of the legislators spoke and many gave moving testimony. Their words and stories demonstrated that this vote was much more than a political vote; it was a deeply personal one. Hearing some of the stories, from mother of gay kids, hearing the personal stories of the openly gay and lesbian legislators, seeing my friends talk about their personal struggle and path to voting for fairness tonight brought tears to my eyes.
Having worked in Vermont to elect a fair-minded majority in the state Senate in 1996 (the Clinton White House sent me there to run his re-election campaign), and then returning in 2000 to protect the pro-Civil Union majority in the state Senate (and then returning in 2002 to rebuild a pro-equality majority in the House after they lost control in 2000). And as a former resident of Vermont who also adopted one of our two sons from that wonderful state, this vote was both political and deeply personal for me, too.
I helped elect many of the legislators that voted tonight (and tried to defeat a few as well). I shared meals in their kitchens; I slept in their homes; I read and played with their kids.
Many of these legislators were simply farmers, teachers, retirees, grandmothers, before they decided to serve their state. Some still remembered the divisive vote of 2000. Take Back Vermont! yardsigns were sprinkled across the state. It was an ugly time to be in Vermont. That vote tore families apart. I know one man who still is not talking to his Uncle because of his vote nine years ago against civil unions.
Whatever we feel about this "issue," it is very, very personal.
What amazes me most about tonight's Vermont vote - the first state to vote to ban slavery and the first state to grant all the state's benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples with civil unions - was that the term civil unions was created in the Vermont legislature only nine years ago. Think about that; we now have marriage equality in two states, and may have it in five in a few weeks (Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont). In nine short years, we have made civil unions seem so... 20th Century.
Governor Jim Douglas has said he intends to veto the bill. The bill heads into final technical passage in the House tomorrow and then returns to the state Senate for concurrence (remember last week's overwhelming 26-4 vote there). The bill should land on Governor Douglas' desk next Tuesday; he'll likely immediately veto and then the House will likely try to override on Tues, Wed, or Thurs of next week.
Since some Democrats who voted against the bill tonight may vote with their party to override (and some Rs who voted for the bill may not want to vote to override their Governor), it is not completely clear how close the votes are to override. If all 150 members show up, 100 votes are needed for override. Advocates believe they are very close to having the votes to override. We could very well be only 5 votes short of an overide, and we have less than a week to get them. Vermont could very well be the first state in our nation to enact marriage equality by the legislature... or not. One vote could make the difference.
Vermont Freedom to Marry has done an amazing job in getting us to this place today. We owe Beth Robinson everything. We should all crack open a pint of Vermont maple syrup in her honor.
What can we do to help get this bill over the finish line and enacted? Email, post on Facebook, call, everyone you know who lives in Vermont and urge them to call their state Representative and ask them to vote to override the Governor on the marriage bill. This really may come down to one vote. So please take action today.
Send a note to Vermont legislators here.
Tonight we are all Vermonters.