Regardless of one’s views on the merits of people of the same sex being allowed to marry, this is how drastic changes in social norms and this is surely that are supposed to take place. Vermont is perhaps the most liberal state in the union and has every right to make this call for itself. And the fact that this was done through an overwhelming vote of representatives accountable to the people rather than by judicial fiat makes the outcome much easier for opponents to swallow.
Vermont becomes the first state to grant basic equality to gay and lesbian couples; again, without judicial compulsion of any kind. What might it mean? I’m hesitant to say too much so soon, but let me try this: The Vermont move could well energize other somewhat progressive state legislatures to follow suit: the other New England states (especially New Hampshire and Maine); New Jersey; and New York are the likeliest. Once that happens, I think the push for marriage equality in California becomes even stronger; Prop 8 could be repealed as soon as next year, even if, as expected, the California Supreme Court allows it to stand.
Getting two-thirds of each house of the state legislature to approve gay marriage is a much more impressive feat, in my view, than getting even a unanimous vote from a state supreme court, as occurred in Iowa just four days ago. Congratulations to the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force and everyone in the state who spent the lest nine years organizing, raising money, and lobbying legislators first to defend the state's civil unions and then to push for full marriage.
It is increasingly obvious that the US Supreme Court is going to have to rule on this matter soon. It is an untenable situation for a same-sex couple to be married in Vermont and Massachusetts and Iowa, but not in Texas, Nevada and Montana. I believe SCOTUS will constitutionalize gay marriage, and that being the case, it might be better for my side if it gets done sooner rather than later. If done sooner, there might still be enough backlash left in the American people to get a constitutional amendment passed erecting a high barrier or protection around religious institutions.
Let the marriage segregationists push their hate. Let them rail against the concept of two loving people committing to one another for life. Let them insist that people who don’t follow the dictates of their chosen faith should be second-class citizens. Let them argue against love.
The fact is, they have already lost.
This is huge. On many levels. First, Iowa and Vermont both making marriage legal within days of each other, that creates the sense of a trend. Second, in Vermont, the legislature made marriage legal. Not the courts, the legislature. Why does this matter? Because Republicans have been arguing for years that the problem with gay marriage is that THE COURTS are making these decisions, rather than the people via their elected representatives. Well, today the people made the decision to legalize same-gender marriages through their elected representatives. What will Republicans say now? We've met their test, and passed. Either the GOP simply hates gays, or they need to admit that we won, fair and square, even by the rules they set down.
What lessons will historians draw concerning the ability of courts to promote social change? As readers no doubt remember, Vermont's supreme court issued a landmark decision nearly ten years ago requiring reform of the marriage law, but holding that civil unions were a constitutionally permissible alternative to marriage. The legislature at that time chose civil unions, but over the course of the past decade, apparently, social norms in Vermont have shifted. Can the judicial decision be credited with triggering that shift, by starting a statewide (indeed, nationwide) conversation?
Expect social conservatives to bemoan this apparent sign of the Apocalypse in 5...4...3...