SAME-SEX MARRIAGE RECOGNITION IN VERMONT -- (Senate - September 30, 2009)
Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, the U.S. Constitution, the document by which we define ourselves as a nation, emphasizes freedom and equality. Its words have inspired generations of Americans to create a society that sustains those values: one that preserves our freedom and reminds its citizens that we are all created equally. Among those who are leading the fight to protect this constitutional guarantee of equality are the people of Vermont, who I have been proud to represent for the past 34 years.
Vermonters have consistently led the charge to perfect our Union and to support the fight for equality and social justice. Vermont was the first State in our Union to outlaw slavery, and was also the first to adopt voting rights, regardless of property ownership. Vermont demonstrated its commitment to social justice years ago with the passage of inclusive hate crimes and employment nondiscrimination legislation. I hope our Federal Government will follow Vermont's lead with regard to these essential protections.
Vermonters have led the Nation by protecting families and by ensuring that children are in stable, loving environments. This is because Vermonters believe that parents should be allowed to strengthen their commitments to one another. In 2000, Vermont took a crucial step when it became the first State in the Nation to allow civil unions for same-sex couples. Recently, Vermont took another step to help sustain the relationships that fulfill our lives by becoming the first state to adopt same-sex marriage through the legislative process without a court mandate to do so.
I commend the Vermont State Legislature for its actions, and for setting aside partisan differences to serve the people of Vermont and to serve as an example for the Nation. Throughout the tumultuous debate on this issue, both chambers considered each side's viewpoint, and all points of view were heard. This was a real testament to our democratic process. Yet despite that debate, the Governor vetoed the legislation that was approved by the legislature.
The Vermont State Legislature has the distinction of being a part-time body. They work within the very communities they represent on a daily basis. During the debate, these legislators listened to their neighbors, their friends, and their constituents. During this process, they realized that marriage equality was something the people of Vermont wanted. Some members of the State legislature ultimately decided to put aside their personal views. They did not want to have such an important issue decided by a single vote. They did not believe that one person should be able to prevent what Vermonters were seeking--equality for all its citizens. In the end, several of the legislators who originally voted against the bill cast their vote to override the Governor's veto. I believe that the actions of those legislators and the entire Vermont Legislature deserve our admiration.
As a Vermonter who has been married for 47 years, I am a great fan of the institution of marriage. I believe it is important to encourage and to sanction committed relationships, and to provide for stable, supportive families. When Vermont passed legislation on same-sex marriage, it reaffirmed my fundamental belief we should not create second-class families who do not enjoy the protections other families have. Unfortunately this is still not the case in our Federal Government. With laws like the Defense of Marriage Act in effect, Vermont same-sex marriages are still treated differently. I believe it is time to repeal it, so that all Vermonters can be treated equally under the law.
Vermont's State motto is depicted clearly on our State flag: ``Freedom and Unity.'' Today, same-sex couples in Vermont are now able to enjoy the same freedoms that opposite sex couples in Vermont enjoy. Same-sex couples now have the freedom to create and to preserve family unity, and to bring happiness and stability to their children and loved ones. I am proud to represent the people of Vermont and I commend them for having reached yet another milestone in the march toward equality.