Vermont, the first state to have civil unions, on Tuesday became a pioneer again as the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature’s vote, suggesting growing popular acceptance of the idea.
The state House of Representatives barely achieved the votes necessary to override Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a bill that will allow gays and lesbians to marry beginning Sept. 1. Four states now have same-sex marriage laws and other states soon could follow suit.
Bills to allow same-sex marriage are before lawmakers in New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey. The three other states that allow same-sex marriage — Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa — each moved to do so through the courts, not legislatures.
“For a popularly elected legislature to make this decision is a much more democratic process” because lawmakers have to answer to the voters every other November, said Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor.
California briefly allowed gay marriage after its highest court legalized it, but it was reversed after a public vote.
Getting gay marriage approved in a political, rather than purely legal, forum is a big step, said Boston University law professor Linda McClain, an expert on family law and policy.
“What may give courage to other legislatures is that this legislature managed to do it,” she said.