Vt. overrides veto, legalizes 'gay marriage'
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Updated 2:33 Eastern Time
MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)--Vermont's Democratic-controlled legislature handed the "gay marriage" movement a landmark victory Tuesday, overriding a veto and making the state the first in the nation to legalize "gay marriage" without a court order.
Requiring a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' veto, the bill passed the Senate with ease, 23-5, and then squeaked by in the House by the slimmest of margins, 100-49. It needed a minimum of 100 votes in the House to reach a two-thirds majority.
The new law will go into effect Sept. 1, making Vermont the fourth state to legalize "gay marriage," following Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. But unlike those three states, Vermont will begin recognizing "gay marriage" legislatively. In recent days opponents of the bill tried but failed to have legislators allow citizens to vote on a non-binding question to gauge public opinion on the issue.
Passage of the bill also means the nation has seen the number of states that recognize "gay marriage" -- or soon will do so -- double in the past week. Iowa's highest court handed down its ruling just four days ago.
"With its enactment, the Vermont legislature made a profound social policy statement that mothers and fathers are not necessary for the family, and that the sex of a parent doesn't matter" Austin R. Nimocks, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, told Baptist Press. The religious liberty organization opposed the bill. "It's unfortunate any time you see a court or a legislature say that children are not entitled to both a mother and a father. And it should never be the intent of any policy or law to intentionally deprive children of what they need, and that's both a mom and a dad."
The law changes the state definition of marriage from a "legally recognized union of one man and one woman" to a "legally recognized union of two people." It also transformed the terms "bride" and "groom" into gender-neutral words. In fact, each party requesting a marriage license will determine whether he/she wants to be referred to as a "bride," "groom" or "spouse" -- meaning that, under the new law, two men or two women could decide to be referred to in the traditional sense: a bride and groom.
Douglas vetoed the bill Monday evening, setting up a quick-paced attempt at an override.
House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat and a strong backer of the bill, seemed to be fighting back tears upon announcing the vote total.
During floor debate in the House, opponents urged representatives to oppose the bill, saying it would result in negative social change. Republican Rep. Donald Turner said the bill would result in "radically redefining our most basic social institution."
"Marriage is the way that we as a culture -- like virtually every other culture known to man -- link children with their mother and father who made them," Turner, who voted against the bill, said. "Whatever rights and benefits we decide to extend same-sex couples, this biological reality of marriage should not be lightly erased."
A January Gallup Poll found that Vermont was the least religious state in the nation, with only 42 percent of residents answering "yes" when asked, "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" But Terry Dorsett, director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association -- an association of Southern Baptist churches -- wrotes in a Baptist Press column that evangelicalism is "small, but growing rapidly" in the state. In the past eight years he has seen the number of churches in his association more than double, going from 17 to 37. Other evangelical denominations in the state are growing, too, he said. Dorsett had contacted members of the legislature, asking them to vote against the bill.
"There are times when those of us who are leaders in the evangelical Christian community become discouraged with the smallness of our numbers and the way that the mainstream liberal media marginalizes our efforts," he wrote. "But then we are reminded that the battle is not fought in the courtrooms or in the statehouse, but in the hearts of men and women who are in need of Jesus. I have personally witnessed the spiritual transformation of several homosexuals who are now living free from that emotional addiction. They were drawn to one of our Southern Baptist churches because the people in that church showed concern for them."
Vermont passed the bill nine years after it became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions. That, though, came after a court-order.
"Just because the legislature makes an enactment doesn't make it true," Nimmocks, the attorney, said of the legislature's passage of the "gay marriage" bill. "If the Vermont legislature passed a resolution that the earth was flat, does that make it true? Of course not. And the simple fact is that marriage predated the Vermont legislature -- just like my mother predated me. I don't get to redefine who my mother is. It's just a simple fact of common sense. The institution of marriage has predated the legislature and government and the United States, and it's not the prerogative of anybody to redefine it. It is the prerogative of every state and U.S. citizen to uphold the institution as it has always been defined, as one man and one woman."
Nimmocks also said he does not think "gay marriage" legalization nationwide is inevitable.
"I don't believe for a second that same-sex marriage is going to become the policy of the United States or a majority of states," he said. "And the fact that there are 30 constitutional amendments amongst our 50 states upholding marriage as the union of one man and one woman -- plus several other constitutional amendment efforts in other states -- only bolsters that fact."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.