Victory in Vermont

Right after the Vermont legislature voted (100 to 49, precisely the two-thirds needed) this morning to override Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a law permitting gay marriage, my daughter got a text message, “Yeah, Vermont!”She was not the only one cheering when the vote was announced. I felt an elation that surprised me.These men and women in the legislature are not professional politicians — they are citizen legislators representing small districts where voters know who they are, meet them at the general store and chat with them at the gas station.The grassroots support that was evident in this vote signifies strong support for equal rights for our gay and lesbian relatives, friends and neighbors to a degree that has not happened before.Vermont is the fourth state to enact gay marriage, but the first state to do so by a vote of the legislature, rather than by their state supreme courts.I cannot help but think how far we have come in such a short time to guarantee respect to gay and lesbian Americans.I remember when I was in my second term as governor — I was the only politician to speak at one of the first gay pride parades in Burlington.I stood on the steps of the Unitarian Church under a broad banner that said “Gay Pride.”The newspaper made certain that both my photo and the banner fit into the picture that was featured on the front page the next day.I later learned that that photo was scotch taped to several cash registers in stores with a red circle and a red slash.Almost 10 years ago, Vermont was the first state to enact a law that permitted civil unions, by a margin of one vote.The fact that this law was enacted by two-thirds of the legislators is one indicator of how much has changed.At that time, legislators who voted for the law lost their seats in the next election.At public hearings in 2000, many Vermonters learned for the first time that gay and lesbian Vermonters were their neighbors, not simply “the other.”This  time, we learned that they are worthy of full citizenship.Not every gay or lesbian person will want to get married, but every gay and lesbian person can feel a little more safe, experience a little more dignity and most important of all, feel proud — proud not only of themselves, but for the citizens of this small state that has had the good sense to do the right thing.