Vermont Legalizes Gay Marriage by Landslide Vote

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The roll call came to the end and Jeff Young, a gardener and freshman Democrat, switched his vote.

His simple “yes” tipped the balance today in the state House of Representatives, making Vermont the fourth state in the country to legalize marriage between same-sex couples.

Young’s move ensured that lawmakers had 100 votes – the minimum needed in the heavily Democratic 150-member legislature to override Monday’s veto by Governor Jim Douglas. The House’s 100-49 vote came about an hour after the state Senate voted 23-5 to override the Republican governor. The new law takes effect on Sept. 1.

The final vote sparked loud cheers in the packed chambers of the State House.

“I’m thrilled, and I’m proud of Vermont, for what we did, and how we conducted this conversation,” said Beth Robinson, chair of the Vermont Freedom To Marry Task Force, which lobbied lawmakers for years for such a law.

Vermont, which became the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples in 2000, now joins Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa in allowing gays and lesbians the right to marry. But the courts changed the laws in those states.

Representative Joseph Krawczyk, a Republican from Bennington who voted against the override, said he hopes the new law inspires residents to vote out many of those who supported it. A majority of new lawmakers could vote to repeal the law, unlike in those states where courts changed the law.

“They’re going to have to live with the consequences,” he said. “This does not reflect the true values of Vermonters. It does not reflect my values nor does it reflect those of my constituents.”

A random sampling of citizens found some ambivalence about the development.

Donna Gaulin, 37, of Brookfield, said she hopes the new law would be a boom to Vermont’s economy. ‘‘If more people are going to come here to get married, that could bring a lot of money to the state,’’ she said. ‘‘Anything that would improve our economy is a good thing. We don’t judge people.’’

David Goldstein, 43, of Montpelier, who is unemployed, said he would have preferred that the Legislature focused more on the economy. ‘‘I don’t have a problem with this, but there are a lot of other priorities,’’ he said.

Leslie Haines, 65, of Worcester, Vt., called the Legislature’s vote, ‘‘very positive. I believe equal opportunity is everyone’s right. I think we realize that with this vote,’’ she said.

In an interview in his office, House Speaker Shap Smith said he was confident he had the votes before the roll call. He denied applying pressure or offering incentives to persuade several lawmakers to reverse themselves from last week’s vote, in which only 95 of them supported the same-sex marriage bill.

In the past week, Young said he had received about 3,000 e-mails and hundreds of calls from people trying to win his support. He described his initial vote against same-sex marriage as a “gut decision,” because he thought the bill “wasn’t family friendly.”

But when he realized how much his vote -- which was among the last -- would count, he said he thought, “Maybe this was the time to step to the plate.”

Democrats here control 102 of the 150 seats in the House and 23 of the Senate’s 30 seats. The vote passed in the House with help of six Republicans.

Senator Bill Doyle, a Republican from Washington County who supported the same-sex marriage bill, in the end voted against it.

“I didn’t want to override my governor,” he said. “But I think it’s good that this is over. Now we can go on to other issues.”

The campaign to legalize marriage for same-sex couples was jump-started in Massachusetts, where the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2004 that it was necessary to fulfill the equal-protection clause in the state constitution. A similar judicial decision followed last year in Connecticut. Iowa’s Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last week.

In Vermont today, Bill Lippert, an openly gay Democrat who serves as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was “deeply touched” by the vote.

“This will have a profound effect on gay and lesbian Vermonters, and our family and friends,” he said. “But this is really a triumph of people who care about our well being.”