D.C. votes to recognize marriages from elsewhere, capping historic week in which number of states treating same-sex couples equally doubled
In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the U.S. to offer civil unions to same-sex couples following a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court.
Louise Young and Vivienne Armstrong, who’ve now been together for 38 years, were the first Dallas-area couple to travel to the Green Mountain State to have their relationship recognized.
The activist couple even moved to Vermont for a two-year stint shortly afterward.
So when the Vermont Legislature voted this week to override Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto of a bill making same-sex marriage legal, it held a special significance for Young and Armstrong.
"We are absolutely delighted," Young said following the Tuesday, April 7 vote in Vermont. "This vote is a testament to the commitment of the people of Vermont to let everyone live their own lives and be happy and be equal."
Beth Robinson, chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force agreed. "We’ve shown that truth and fairness and justice and love are more powerful than one man’s veto pen," Robinson said.
Couples with civil unions — like Young and Armstrong — will not automatically be married once the new law takes effect in September, nor do they have to get married. Those who want a marriage will have to apply for a license with a town clerk and have a ceremony. They do not have to dissolve their civil union, but some may choose to.
Armstrong and Young were legally married in California last summer, after the Supreme Court decision there legalized same-sex marriage and before voters approved Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that overturned the court’s decision.
With the 100-49 vote, Vermont became the fourth state gay marriage where gay marriage is legal and the first to do so with a legislature’s vote. The override passed the House by the slimmest possible margin — it needed 100 votes.
The vote came four days after the Iowa Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling giving legal recognition to same-sex marriage there. With the Vermont vote, the number of state’s recognizing same-sex marriage doubled to four.
Also on Tuesday, the Washington, D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Legislation to legalize gay marriage is also being considered in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Maine, and the California Supreme Court’s ruling in the challenge to the validity of Prop 8 could be released any day.
In Iowa this week, authorities announced that a statewide court furlough day aimed at cutting costs during tough budget times will delay the date gay and lesbian couples can begin legally marrying there until the last day in April.
The Iowa Supreme Court issued its decision legalizing same-sex marriage on Friday, April 3, and court rulings usually take effect 21 days after they are issued.
That would have put the start date for gay marriages in Iowa at April 24.
But the state courts already had planned to put employees on furloughs that day due to budget cuts, and because the courts will be closed, same-sex couples must wait to seek marriage licenses until the following Monday, April 27.
Then, there’s a three-day mandatory waiting period before the licenses can be issued, pushing the actual date gay and lesbian couples can marry to April 30. Judges can waive that waiting period under extraordinary circumstances, but the Iowa attorney general’s office noted they are only supposed to do so in the same manner as they would for people of opposite genders.
Iowa doesn’t have residency requirements for marriage licenses, so same-sex couples from elsewhere could come to Iowa to be married.
Democratic leaders in the Iowa Legislature have, since the ruling was issued, stymied efforts by conservative lawmakers to initiate the process that would put an anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot there. Such an amendment would have to be approved in two successive legislative sessions before it could be on the ballot.
Gov. Chet Culver on Tuesday ended days of silence on the ruling, saying he disagrees with the ruling but is "reluctant to support" amending the state constitution to reverse it.
Culver said in a lengthy statement that he hadn’t changed his mind that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But he added that the issue before the court involved only civil marriage, and that churches and other religious institutions do not have to perform them.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 10, 2009.