Wednesday, April 8, 2009
THROUGH VERY different means and under very different circumstances, lawmakers in Vermont and the District yesterday came to the same conclusion: Common decency and the protections guaranteed to all citizens by the rule of law demand that the relationships of gay men and lesbians be respected and recognized.
Nine years ago, Vermont became the first state to legally recognize civil unions. Yesterday, the state House and Senate voted to override the governor's veto of a same-sex marriage bill that was passed last week. With its 100-49 vote in the House -- exactly the number of votes needed to nullify the veto -- Vermont again set a precedent by becoming the first state to legally recognize gay marriage through a legislative act rather than a court order. Conservatives often criticize judges for legislating from the bench; last week's unanimous decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to strike down a ban on gay marriage came under fire for this very reason. But even conservatives who disagree passionately with the results in Vermont should be able to respect the right of the duly elected peoples' representatives to take such action.
District lawmakers also took a courageous step in unanimously voting to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The bill must still be voted on again by the council, signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and approved by Congress before it becomes law. Some congressional overseers and opponents of gay marriage will no doubt seize on the legislation to score political points. But the council should be commended for taking the correct stance in defense of fairness for those who live in the nation's capital.
Gay couples in the great majority of states do not enjoy the basic benefits that often are automatically bestowed on married heterosexual couples, such as the right of inheritance or the right to make medical decisions for, and be by the bedside of, a hospitalized spouse. Gay couples usually have to take extra, often extraordinary and usually expensive legal steps just to protect their loved ones. There may be understandable arguments for refusing to define same-sex unions as marriages, but there are no legitimate reasons for denying legal protections to an entire group of people simply because of who they are and whom they love. One hopes the votes in Vermont and the District augur better things to come.
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