Marriage Equality Scores Historic Victories: Vermont and Iowa Become 3rd and 4th States to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

The number of states giving full state marriage rights to same-sex couples has doubled in under a week as first Iowa and then Vermont joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in achieving marriage equality.  Additionally, the District of Columbia City Council recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states.    
  • Vermont Becomes First State to Legislate Marriage Equality:  On Tuesday, literally without one vote to spare, the Vermont Legislature voted to overturn the governor's veto of a bill granting full marriage rights under state law to same-sex couples.  This marks the first time that a state legislature, rather than the courts, has extended equal marriage rights to its GLBT residents.  The passage of this law, SB 115, sponsored by Senate President Peter Shumlin, is therefore a key milestone in the history of marriage equality. Vermont created civil unions for same-sex couple following a State Supreme Court ruling nine years ago that said denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violated equal protection. After nine years of civil unions Vermonters have come to the radical conclusion that marriage is good and should be available to all families in the Green Mountain State.
  • Iowa's Top Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality:  Last Friday the Iowa Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that banned same-sex marriage.  The unanimous ruling recounted the Iowa Supreme Court's distinguished history of upholding equal rights, noting that the court's first case refused to "enforce a contract for slavery and held our laws must extend equal protection to persons of all races and conditions."  The court has also led the nation on gender rights and against segregation, observing that "[i]n each of those instances, our state approached a fork in the road toward fulfillment of our constitution's ideals and reaffirmed the 'absolute equality of all' persons before law as 'the very foundation principle of our government."  Specifically, the court found that "perhaps the ultimate disadvantage expressed in the testimony of the plaintiffs is the inability to obtain for themselves and for their children the personal and public affirmation that accompanies marriage."  
  • District of Columbia Votes to Recognize Out-of-State Marriages of Same-Sex Couples:  Another unanimous decision to support marriage equality came this week from the District of Columbia City Council, which gave preliminary approval to recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Legislative Leadership Consolidates Marriage Equality:  Notable in each state was the legislative leadership on behalf of marriage equality.  In overriding their governor's veto, the Vermont legislative leadership was obvious in its determination.  In Iowa,the House and Senate leadership made it clear that they will oppose any constitutional amendment that seeks to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court decision.  In a joint release by Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, they praised the decision and said "the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long."  Since Iowa requires legislative approval of constitutional amendments, such strong legislative leadership means that marriage equality in the state is likely to be protected in coming years in Iowa.   

A Generational Change Promises Long-Term Victory for Same-Sex Marriage Nationally:  Another factor driving acceptance of same-sex marriage is generational.  Americans 18-45 give legal marriage over twice the level of support than do those over 65.  In Vermont, this reality was clearly articulated by a group of prominent business leaders who wrote to lawmakers urging them to override the governor's veto in order to boost the economic wellbeing of the state:

"The generation that we are trying to attract is different from ours. They don't care about racial, ethnic, gender or sexual orientation differences. They like living among people from diverse backgrounds. They gravitate to places where those differences make life more exciting."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has gained some well-deserved youtube stardom for his extremely thoughtful remarks on the Senate floor.  Responding to a request to suspend the rules and co-sponsor a leadership bill to amend the state constitution to overturn the decision, Majority Leader Gronstal replied:

"One of my daughters was in the workplace one day, and her particular workplace at that moment in time there were a whole bunch of conservative, older men. And those guys were talking about gay marriage. They were talking about discussions going on across the country. And my daughter Kate, after listening to it for about 20 minutes, said to them: ”˜You guys don’t understand. You’ve already lost. My generation doesn’t care.’ I think I learned something from my daughter that day, when she said that.  [Watch the video here or by clicking on the image above.]

Support for marriage equality has been growing among the whole population, but the fact is that a clear majority of Americans age 18-34 support same-sex marriage by a margin of 51-40 according to a December 2008 Newsweek poll (reflecting many other surveys), meaning that when it comes to full equality for GLBT Americans the question is not if, but when. 

Iowa Supreme Court Decision A Gay Marriage Surge: Public support grows, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll
Joint statement from Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)- Maps of State Laws & Policies
GLAD- Marriage Rights & Resources