Category Archives: Vermont

A New Symbol for Marriage Equality

I happened upon this new symbol a month or so ago and thought it was a fantastic idea, so much so that I’ve put it on the sidebar over there on the right. Carl Tashian, the man behind the symbol, explains:

Suffrage Protest FlagIn 1902, when the women’s suffrage movement was just getting warmed up, the American flag had 45 stars. In protest, the suffragists created their own US flag with only four stars, representing the four states that allowed women to vote.

This flag flew at the podium of the First International Womens Suffrage Conference in 1902, and it was my inspiration for a re-appropriation of the American flag. Unfortunately, all four states that were so progressive regarding women’s suffrage in 1902 have state-wide same-sex marriage bans today.

This new protest flag creates a visual history of our struggle for marriage equality. With every new law, court decision, and amendment that offers marriage equality in a state, a star will be added to reflect the new reality.

State by State
If you’re on Facebook, you can join the group here, or go to Carl’s site to read more about it.

The Case of Vermont’s Missing Vote

As the euphoria over yesterday’s Victory in Vermont! passes, more details are becoming known. Many, if not all, of the major Religious Right leaders have come out with the standard shock and condemnation that we’ve come to expect. Others have covered that, and probably better than I could.

So instead, I thought I’d talk about the missing House vote yesterday. The bill passed 100-49 with one member missing, and that missing member turns out to be Albert “Sonny” Audette (D). If you paid attention to the pre-vote projections, you’ll recognize the name as one of the two NO votes who had pledged to overturn the governor’s veto.

The Burlington Free Press has the story.

Rep. Albert “Sonny” Audette, D-South Burlington, the only representative not present at Tuesday’s historic override of the gubernatorial veto of the marriage bill for same-sex couples, stayed home because of health problems, he said shortly after the vote.

Audette, who suffered a stroke last spring and has struggled with gout and arthritis, woke up Tuesday morning barely able to get out of bed. Making it to the Statehouse for the override vote was out of the question.

Audette said he was sorry about not making it to the Statehouse for Tuesday’s vote, but when he woke up he could hardly move because of the gout in his feet. As he reclined in a lounge chair and ate soup his wife, Terri, made for him, he explained that his health was more important than the issue before the House.

I’m going to be polite and accept Rep. Audette on his word here. A 77-year-old man who suffered a stroke a year ago gets the benefit of the doubt when he claims poor health. Besides, he has no reason to lie; he says later in the article that he would have gone back on his pledge and voted to let the veto stand.

As late as Monday night, Audette, a devout Catholic, was still debating whether to vote his conscience or vote with his party. In the end, his conscience would have won out, had he been present to vote. He would have voted against the veto override, he said.

“It’s against my religion,” Audette said. “I voted my conscience, and my conscience is swayed by my 12 years of Catholic education.”

And that’s where my patience runs out. As I said last week, I do understand the struggle to integrate new understanding, to turn away from the way things have been done in favor of a better way. I have honest-to-goodness compassion for that struggle.

But I’ll repeat it for Rep. Audette and everyone else: This is not about marriage as a religious institution. Your opinion on whether gays should exist (which is what every gay rights issue is really about) is beside the point. WE EXIST. Given that fact, the issue is simply this: Should we or should we not have rights that are equal to yours?

Audette said he wrestled with the marriage issue because he respects gay and lesbian people and has friends in the gay community, but had to weigh that respect against the needs of his constituents. He said the people he represents who lobbied him on this issue were overwhelmingly opposed to it.

“He’s so kind-hearted, you know,” Terri Audette said. “He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

To steal a line from Jon Stewart, and with due respect to the Audettes, you don’t have gay friends. You may have gay acquaintances, gay coworkers, gay neighbors, and gay members of your family, but you don’t have gay friends. Not when you vote to deny their rights.

Ideally, Audette said, the Legislature would have been able to call for a referendum. Audette didn’t want to have to deal with such a potentially divisive issue as marriage for same-sex couples and a public statewide vote would have been the solution to his discomfort, he said.

“I shouldn’t be mandating my feelings on someone else,” Audette said. “Everyone should be able to have their say on this.”

If you don’t want to deal with difficult issues, perhaps it’s time to retire from politics, Rep. Audette. You are a part of a representative democracy. You accepted the responsibility to vote on potentially divisive issues when you were elected.

Finally, civil rights should never be put up for a popular vote. I have enough of a problem with rights guaranteed by the Constitution being voted on in the legislature; putting them up to the general public leads only to tyranny.

Victory in Vermont!

Marriage equality is a reality today in Vermont, as the House of Representatives overrode the veto of Governor Jim Douglas (R) with literally the closest vote possible, 67% of the vote.

Vermont’s House of Representatives and Senate both voted to override the governor’s veto of the state’s marriage equality bill, known as SB 115. Governor Jim Douglas (R) formalized his veto behind closed doors yesterday evening less than an hour after the amended bill was passed by the Senate.

For those keeping score, the bill passed in the Senate last week 495 with a vote of 26-4 (87% FOR) before it headed to the House. The House Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the floor with a vote of 8-2 (80% FOR). Then on Thursday the House passed the bill with a vote of 95-52 (65% FOR). (The final House vote on Friday changed to 94-52 (64% FOR) because a supporting member was not present.)

No matter how you slice it, that’s a decisive majority all along the way.

The Senate was the first to take up the measure to override the governor’s veto, with a final tally of 23-5, with one Republican switching his vote. Still and all, a decisive victory in the Senate with 82% of the vote.

The House had always been the question mark in the process, since the pre-veto tally was just below the 100 vote (67%) threshold. Just minutes ago, the veto was overridden with exactly 100 votes, 67.11% of members present.

There will be more news and analysis later, but for now we celebrate.

A Few Site Notes During the Pregnant Pause

The entire gay blogosphere (I hate the term too) is waiting see if the Vermont marriage equality bill will be vetoed by the governor and if so, will the veto be overturned by the legislature. Things have gone quiet today. TOO QUIET.

While we wait (it’ll be morning before it comes back to the House), here’s a sneak peek at some things I have planned for the site.

  • A new name. Yes, again. Shut up. I hate naming things and I totally suck at it, but this is it. This change will stick for at least a year. This is my pledge.
  • Sometime soon, there will be a drastic change in the appearance of this blog. I’m working on adapting a WordPress theme, and if all goes to plan (HAHAHA) it should be ready to go by next Monday. I actually jumped a major hurdle yesterday, and it’s all downhill from here. (I think I just mixed that metaphor. Sorry.)
  • The magazine-style index will be going away. The entire text will be available from the index instead of making people click through to read the blog post. A side benefit for me is that I won’t have to find those 85×85 images that are currently on the front. I spend waaayyyy too much time doing that.
  • I’m working on improving navigation. Currently it’s okay on the index, but completely lacking in an individual post. I’ve tried to fix that with the current theme, but it’s a no-go. That’ll change with the new look; navigation options in the sidebar will be the same no matter what page you’re on. I’ve already activated a “Popular Posts” feature, and that’ll be staying with a few tweaks that should improve it even more.
  • The cool super-sweet drop-down category listing on the front page may be going away. I hope not, but the javascript is fighting with some new javascript and I’m not sure I’ll be able to reconcile them. Hope so, but it might be gone.
  • You five or so people who have subscribed to the RSS feed will be able to read the whole thing from your feed readers. At some point the rss address may change, but not yet. If it does, you’ll get a post warning you about it.

And that’s the news! Now to wait for news from Vermont. And New Hampshire. And California. And Iowa. And the Presbyterian Church. And the Methodist Church. And…

Vermont Legislature Votes for Marriage

The Vermont House of Representatives voted to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage Thursday evening. The bill, which passed in the Senate with a final tally of 26-4 last month, passed in the House with less of a lead at 95-52, only a handful of votes away from withstanding the threatened veto of Governor Jim Douglas (R), and with at least two Representatives who have pledged to change their vote to YES if the Governor delivers that veto.

The Burlington Free Press reports:

Vermont’s House of Representatives gave preliminary approval tonight to a historic same-sex marriage bill, setting up a showdown with Gov. Jim Douglas.

After nearly four hours of passionate debate from supporters and opponents of the measure, the House approved the bill by a vote of 95-52 shortly after 9 p.m. The legislation, S.115, gives same-sex couples the right to marry in Vermont.

The bill will be brought up again Friday for final approval, then return to the Senate, where changes to language must be approved. Should the Senate OK those changes, the bill will head to Douglas’ desk and a promised veto.

That veto — which Douglas declared last week he would deliver — would not kill the legislation. Instead members of the House and Senate will try to override the veto by securing a two-thirds majority of support in each chamber. The Senate would need 20 votes; the House would need 100 with all members in attendance.

Earlier in the day, two Democratic Representatives who voted against the bill said that if vetoed, they would vote to overturn.

If there is a vote to override a gubernatorial veto, however, [Rep. Debbie] Evans said she will vote for it. The Democratic caucus is firm about sticking together to challenge the governor, she said.

Evans said she believes Gov. Jim Douglas interfered with the legislative process by declaring last week that he would veto the bill before it went through the Legislature. “No one was happy with that,” she said.

She wasn’t the only Democrat who said she would switch her vote to override a veto. Albert “Sonny” Audette, D-South Burlington, said he would do the same.

In the same article, NO voter Rep. Don Turner (R) was quoted, giving a fascinating insight to the problem we face.

Turner, a Republican from Milton, has been lobbied by a gay friend and his own nephew to vote for the bill, he said, but in the end, he decided he couldn’t.

“A marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “I just can’t get beyond that. I don’t feel right in changing the definition. It’s just everything I know.”

Hopefully Rep. Turner’s relationships with his friend and nephew can withstand this vote. I appreciate the struggle with new understanding, and I know a lot of people find themselves in a similar position, but it’s time to move past it and become closer to the nation we are meant to be.

Thanks to Shay Totten of Vermont online magazine Seven Days for outstanding updates from the House chamber all afternoon and evening on Twitter. In the next few days, I’ll be taking a look at some of the debate before the vote, including video of several key points of discussion.

Update 04/03/2009: The bill passed in the House a second time this afternoon with an official tally of 94-52, with three absent and Speaker Shap Smith abstaining.

Anti-Gay Group Robocalls Vermonters

With the Vermont House of Representatives vote on marriage equality scheduled for today, the opposition seems to be ramping up their efforts. The Burlington Free Press is reporting that robocalls were received by some Vermonters last night.

Several people called the Free Press last night to complain about automated calls regarding today’s House vote on the gay marriage bill.

Callers said the recordings urged them to call their local legislators and urge them to vote against the bill.

The Vermonters said the calls showed this number on their caller ID: fed0309RSCH or 804-934-1092, a number in Richmond, Va.

This appears to be a lobbying effort by the National Organization for Marriage to encourage opposition to the bill. Here is the contact information for the group:

National Organization for Marriage
20 Nassau Street, Suite 242
Princeton, NJ 08542

Phone: (609) 688-0450
Fax: (888) 894-3604
Email: contact@nationformarriage.org

Maggie Gallagher’s “National Organization for Marriage” is known for its rabid opposition to gay equality.

Vermont House Judiciary Committee: Yes to Marriage Equality

Breaking news from the Burlington Free Press this afternoon. We’re one step closer to marriage equality in Vermont.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a same-sex marriage bill this morning, advancing the controversial legislation to the full House for debate Thursday.

The committee supported the bill by a vote of 8-2.

The bill, which passed the Senate last week and which faces a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas, would provide same-sex couples with the same rights as those of heterosexual married couples.

Committee members who voted for the bill were: Eldred French, D-Shrewsbury; Willem Jewett, D-Ripton; Richard Marek, D-Newfane; Cynthia Martin, D-Springfield; Kathy Pellett, D-Chester; Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe; Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg and Maxine Grad, D-Moretown.

Voting against the bill were Peg Flory, R-Pittsford and Andrew Donaghy, R-Poultney.

Patti Komline, R-Dorset, wasn’t in committee during the debate or this morning’s vote, though she has said she supports the bill.

The article goes on to quote some of the 1,500 letters that Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R) has received since his announcement that he would veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

VT Governor to Veto Marriage Equality

All eyes have moved to Vermont this week, following the State Senate’s overwhelming passage of a marriage equality bill on Monday. Talks are ongoing in the House of Representatives, where passage is expected as well. The big question mark on the whole affair has been whether it will have enough votes to withstand a veto from Governor Jim Douglas (R).

That was an academic question until this afternoon; it had been speculated that while Governor Douglas was against marriage equality, he wouldn’t veto the bill instead allowing it to pass without his signature. That all changed when he announced his intent to veto the marriage equality bill. Audio below, courtesy Vermont Public Radio, with a few excerpts of the transcription of the statement courtesy the Rutland Herald, interrupted by my response.

[mp3=http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/douglas-statement.mp3]

Again, below are chosen excerpts. To get the full transcript, see the link above.

The urgency of our state’s economic and budgetary challenges demands the full focus of every member and every committee of this Legislature. Ensuring that the federal recovery money is spent wisely, that the state budget is balanced and responsible, and that we do all we can to help our employers compete and create jobs is my top priority.

However, I recognize that legislative leaders have different priorities.

Nice dig at your opposition, Governor. Bravo.

So long as same-sex marriage consumes the time and energy of legislators, I will urge lawmakers to act quickly so they can turn their full focus to the economic needs of Vermonters as soon as possible.

Okay, so Governor Douglas has pulled out the old stand-by “We don’t have time” excuse. To begin with, the Senate took a week and the House is believed to be all but ready to vote by the end of this week. So, you know, two weeks isn’t a long time.

More importantly, why in the world would one think that civil rights should take the back burner? That’s a problem we’ve faced before, both in the LGBT community and in other civil rights struggles. “Just wait,” they say. “Wait, and once we this under control, we’ll get to your rights.”

And let’s just be honest, if it weren’t the economy, something else would appear that would be pushed as more important. It’s not good enough, Governor Douglas. Your constituents deserve better.

The question of same sex marriage is an issue that does not break cleanly as Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, religious or atheist. It is an intensely personal decision – a decision informed by all of those things and many more – an amalgam of experience, conviction and faith. These beliefs are deeply held, passionately expressed and, for many legislators, infinitely more complex than the ultimate ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ required to fulfill the duty of their office.

This covers a lot of catchphrases that we heard last year as the Religious Right prepped voters to feel okay about their vote. Let me put it plainly: I couldn’t give two shits about someone’s religious beliefs. They have no place in this discussion. That isn’t a “personal decision”, it’s the way the government is supposed to work.

Likewise, I don’t care how “deeply held” your convictions are. Guess what? Many people had the “deeply held” conviction that African Americans were less human than white Americans, that they should have separate bathrooms, that their children’s education was less important. Many had the “deeply held” conviction that women should live in submission to men, unable to inherit land or sign contracts. Heck, once upon a time, many had the “deeply held” conviction that women who might be witches should be murdered.

But those convictions were all laid aside in favor of reason and nonprejudicial order.

And frankly, no, it isn’t more complex than “yea” or “nay”. Take out all the junk and excuses that the Religious Right has come up with over the years and you have a simple question: Are we equal or are we unequal? This is one of those rare times that the choice really is binary.

For those on either side of the vote to sternly judge the other’s morality and conscience is the only true intolerance in this debate and is a disservice to all Vermonters.

No. Absolutely wrong. The proposition that one group is better or more deserving of respect, dignity, and full equal rights is one that should never be tolerated. It should be judged. It MUST be judged. The Constitution demands it.

I do judge your morality, Governor Douglas. I judge your conscience when it tells you that “deeply held beliefs” are more important than full equality for your constituents. I judge your service as a public servant. I judge your honor, sir. I judge your supposed Christian morals. I judge your humanity.

I judge these things, and I judge them wanting.

For those reasons and because I believe that by removing any uncertainty about my position we can move more quickly beyond this debate, I am announcing that I intend to veto this legislation when it reaches my desk.

It makes me sad, Governor Douglas. For nothing more than political expediency, you’re willing to sacrifice not only the equality of your constituents but your place in history. In a generation, people will look back at today’s statement and shake their heads. They’ll look at your silly arguments and rhetorical dodges with the same disdain as we look at the arguments made in 1957 by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.

This is your legacy, Governor Douglas. I hope you’re ready for it.

Vermont Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill

Details are sketchy, but the Burlington Free Press is reporting that a marriage equality bill (SB 115) has passed in the Vermont State Senate with a whopping 87% of the vote (26-4).

Vermont’s Speaker of the House, Shap Smith, says that a similar bill should pass in the House very soon, though there is question as to how veto-proof that vote will be. Governor Jim Douglas has said he wouldn’t veto a marriage equality bill if it got to his desk, but also that he believed that marriage is for straight people only.

There’s been some speculation that Gov. Douglas might allow marriage equality to pass into law without his signature.

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