The word in the House…

By Rep. Bill Lippert
Hinesburg State Representative

Last week, on April 7, I was encouraged by several colleagues to share on the floor of the House some brief reflections on the significance of April 7 as an important legislative anniversary. What follows is a fuller reflection.

After more than twenty years of personal grassroots advocacy, historic and controversial Vermont court decisions, and ultimately high legislative drama, full marriage equality became a reality in Vermont on Sept. 1, 2009 when same-sex Vermont couples were legally married in Vermont – often in long-awaited, deeply personal and emotional wedding ceremonies.

Several anniversaries during this historic journey are worth noting.
20th Anniversary of filing Baker v. Vermont

Twenty years ago, in July 1997, three same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses, and then filed suit against the state of Vermont and the towns where they had been denied marriage licenses. These courageous same-sex couples ultimately prevailed in the unanimous and historic Dec. 1999, Baker v. Vermont decision of the Vermont Supreme Court. Baker v. Vermont granted to Vermont same-sex couples, all of the “rights and responsibilities” of Vermont’s marriage statutes. Significantly, however, the Vermont Supreme Court left it to the Vermont legislature to determine whether to open up the Vermont marriage statutes, or to create another legal structure.
17th Anniversary of Civil Unions

In 2000, the Vermont legislature established Civil Unions, a new legal structure, granting same-sex couples all of the “rights and responsibilities” of the Vermont marriage statutes, for the first time anywhere in the United States giving same-sex couples legal recognition and legal rights. Over 7,000 couples from 48 states and many countries travelled to Vermont to be “joined in a Civil Union.”  Vermont same-sex couples acquired these new rights in Civil Union ceremonies – thus becoming legally recognized by the State of Vermont.

The struggle for full marriage equality continued in Vermont, however, because, although Civil Unions were an historic achievement, Civil Unions did not grant legal access to the significant “institution of marriage.”

8th Anniversary of legislative victory for full Vermont Marriage Equality

Eight years ago, during March and April 2009, the Vermont legislature voted to establish full marriage equality, changing forever the lives of same-sex Vermonters, our families and friends.

After years of public struggle and legislative debate, on March 23, 2009, the Vermont Senate voted 26-4 to establish full marriage equality.

On April 3, 2009, the House followed suit, with a strong, affirming vote of 95-52.

However, on April 6, 2009, Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the marriage equality legislation.

To override a governor’s veto, the Senate and House must each achieve a two-thirds majority, not the usual simple majority of fifty percent. Clearly the Senate had the votes to override, but the House did not have sufficient votes on its initial vote of 95-52. Two-thirds would require at least 100 votes to override. Some members who had initially voted against marriage equality would have to be persuaded to change their key votes to the affirmative.

Eight years ago, on April 7, 2009, on a day of intense legislative drama, the Senate voted first, voting to override the governor’s veto, 23-5.

Hours later, in a tense and emotional roll call vote, the House of Representatives achieved the historic override vote, 100-49, finally establishing long-awaited full marriage equality for Vermont.

As a result of that historic vote, since Sept. 1, 2009, 1,866 Vermont same-sex couples have been joined in marriage. In addition, over 3,000 same-sex couples from other states and countries have traveled to Vermont to be married.

The story of Vermont’s historic journey to full marriage equality has recently been recorded in a documentary film, “The State of Marriage.” This powerful documentary is currently available for viewing online on Netflix. A special live showing, with the film’s director and producers present, will take place at UVM on Tuesday, April 18, and on the Middlebury College campus on Wednesday, April 19.

On a personal note, after Vermont achieved full marriage equality, my partner of 28 years, Enrique Peredo, and I were joined in marriage on Sept. 29, 2009. Every year we get to celebrate our multiple anniversaries: our first date, having been joined in a Civil Union, and finally, becoming legally married and having our relationship recognized within the marriage statutes of the state of Vermont. And, yes, it does make a difference being legally recognized as a married couple!

Please feel free to be in contact about any legislative issue:

Rep. Bill Lippert, wlippert@leg.state.vt.us, or 734-0593.

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