(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about courage, dignity and the same-sex marriage vote.
(KUNIN) Right after the Vermont legislature voted 100 to 49 (precisely the 2/3 needed) to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a gay marriage bill, my daughter got a text message:"Yeah, Vermont!"
She was not the only one cheering when the vote was announced. I felt an elation that surprised me. These men and women in the legislature are not professional politicians; they’re citizen legislators representing small districts where voters know who they are, meet them at the general store, chat with them at the gas station. The grass-roots effort that was evident in this vote signifies strong support for equal rights for our gay and lesbian relatives, friends and neighbors to a degree that has not happened before – even though these were not easy votes to cast for either side.
Vermont is the fourth state to enact gay marriage, but it is the first state to do so by a vote of the legislature. The three others (Iowa, most recently) did so as a result of state Supreme Court rulings.
I cannot help but think how far we have come in such a short time. When I was in my second term as Governor in the 1980’s I was the only politician to speak at one of the first gay pride parades in Burlington. I stood on the steps of the Unitarian Church under a broad banner that said "Gay Pride." The newspaper made certain that both my photo and the banner fit into the picture that was featured on the front page the next day. I later learned that that photo was scotch-taped to a cash register in a Mom and Pop store with a red circle and a red slash.
Nine years ago Vermont was the first state to enact civil unions, by a margin of one vote. The fact that this law was enacted by two-thirds of the legislators is one indicator of how much has changed. At that time, about ten legislators who voted for the law lost their seats in the next election. There was a severe backlash, complete with yard signs that read, "Take Back Vermont." There will be some anger about this vote, but I doubt that it will reach the same intensity.
Too many people now know that gay and lesbian Vermonters are their neighbors, not simply "the other." Not every gay or lesbian person will want to get married, but every gay or lesbian person can feel a little more safe, experience a little more dignity, and most of all, feel proud – proud not only for themselves but for the citizens of this small state, which has had the good sense to do the right thing.