Vermont: The End of a Great Debate

April 10, 2009

American history has given us a multitude of great debates: McCarthy vs. Murrow, Roe vs. Wade, King vs. Wallace, and on and on. But few debates have been so heated for so long as the gay marriage debate. And now it’s almost over.

See, it started with religious objections. Gays can’t marry because God said it’s a sin. Well, when we’re talking about law, that argument doesn’t (and can’t) hold water.

Fine, say the objectors, then it will erode the moral values of the country. Well, it doesn’t seem as though the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Norway or Sweden are living in moral turpitude. So why would America suddenly become morally bankrupt (moreso than it already is)?

Well, say the opposers, then what about this: traditionally marriage is defined as the marriage of one man and one woman, and definining it as anything else violates our traditions. If that’s true, then we just elected a president who ran on an extensive pro-GLBT agenda, which included repealing DOMA. But never mind that; Obama ran on a platform of dramatic and effective change. Apparently voters don’t happen to think very strongly about tradition, otherwise they would have voted for the white, Protestant military guy.

But most of us are Christians! scream the opponents. Allowing gay marriage would be allowing sin to be indoctrinated into state law! Well, fine. But those laws are passed to protect the rights of the citizens, and if a governing body determines that gay marriage is the best way to protect the rights of its citizens, then it will take an overwhelming amount of evidence to convince them otherwise. This evidence simply does not exist.

But the people don’t want this, opponents say. It’s the activist judges who legislate from the bench — seven people who tell their citizens what to think and how to believe. This is what happened in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. That is an abuse of authority.

Hmm. Well, that was a good point on April 6th. But on April 7th, 2009, Vermont’s legislature became the first in American history to pass legislation allowing same-sex marriage. But not only was it voted and passed by majority: Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill, at which point it was sent back to Congress where it passed by a 2/3 majority.

So here’s the scorecard. Obviously we still have a lot of work to do. But at least now in one state in the union there is nothing for gay marriage opponents to hide behind, nothing to point at and say, “this is unjust.” In Vermont, GLBT advocates are in the enviable position of only having to debate the morality of homosexuality, and not their legal rights as citizens and human beings. And really, they don’t  have to debate anything anymore. Marriage between all consenting adults is finally legal, and it made legal playing by the rules of the opposition. With a Republican as standing governor, no less.

I am reminded of the old black hymn: “Oh happy day, Oh happy day, When the Vermont state legislature washed our sins away.”

Or something like that.


2 Responses to “Vermont: The End of a Great Debate”

  1. modernpiracy said

    Massachusetts General Court (legislator), if I’m not mistaken, allowed Same-sex Marriage. Pretty sure they beat Vermont to that one… although, Vermont allowed for civil-unions prior to Massachusetts’ Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriages which ordered legislative action. Not to mention that other states, Hawaii and California (briefly) also allowed same-sex marriages. And according to the video link Vermont is only one of 4. It seems Vermont joined the debate, which is far from over as your maps indicate. Not to discredit the accomplishment of the Vermont General Assembly but I would not want their success to be overstated either.

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      Unfortunately, you are mistaken. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ordered the legislature to create a law based on their ruling that banning same-sex marriage ran contrary to the interests of the state constitution. The same thing happened in Iowa and Connecticut, and briefly, as you mentioned, in Hawaii and California. From the article you quoted: “SPINA, J., with whom Sosman and Cordy, JJ., joined, dissented on the basis that what was at stake in the case was not the unequal treatment of individuals or whether individual rights had been impermissibly burdened, but the power of the Legislature to effectuate social change without interference from the courts, pursuant to art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. [350-357]”

      Vermont is different because there was no court ruling precipitating legislative action — this is a law that came from state representatives, not the court system, making this the first time that a state has freely voted for and passed a law allowing same-sex marriage, the very thing that Spina et al. recommended in the Massachusetts case.

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