The state senate approved a gay-marriage bill on a 26-4 vote Monday, followed by a second voice vote without debate yesterday. It now heads to the state house where it is also expected to pass easily. The governor says he will veto the bill, offering a rather novel argument that it takes too much time away from deciding how to spend all that federal stimulus money. An override is possible, but I wouldn't place any bets until the state house actually votes.
Just nine years ago the Vermont Supreme Court instructed the state legislature to come up with a system for giving gay couples the same rights as married couples under state law. Given the choice between gay marriage (which wasn't recognized anywhere in the world in 2000) and the equivalent under a different title, the state legislature created something it called "civil unions." The compromise was extremely controversial in the state. SSM supporters opposed it as "separate but equal." SSM opponents opposed any formal state recognition of gay relationships. There was a campaign that fall to "Take Back Vermont" by voting out the legislators who supported civil unions. That political backlash was unsuccessful and things calmed down. Today, the same legislature may have the votes to override the governor's veto of an SSM bill.
There are number of notable things about the developments in Vermont. First, over time and by degrees, people accommodate themselves to the recognition of SSM. That's also been the experience in Massachusetts and in foreign countries. Second, civil unions need not be the dead end some SSM advocates have feared. And third, the story of the SSM movement is shifting from a judge-dominated narrative to a more democratic one. But the movement has been more complex than this either/or suggests. There is an intricate interplay between judicial decision and democratic action. In Vermont, judges got the ball rolling, the state began to debate the issue, with annual lobbying by SSM advocates, and now the legislature is on board. In California, the legislature got the ball rolling with domestic partnerships (and even marriage), judges pushed it along faster last year, and the voters have called a halt (for now).
In case you're wondering, it's very hard to amend the Vermont constitution. It requires a super-majority in the state senate and approval by the full legislature in successive sessions. The Vermont process is like the Massachusetts model, where SSM survived amendment efforts, and unlike the populist California model, where it lost.