If recent media reports are to be believed, the marriage equality bill is unlikely to receive the 21 votes it needs for passage in the Senate come Thursday.
Five Democrats are currently on record opposing the bill. Paul Sarlo and John Girgenti voted against the bill in committee, while Jeff Van Drew, Nick Sacco and Ron Rice have also recently announced that they will vote no. Media reports have several other Democrats as “undecided” or “decided but not telling.”
If five Democrats vote no, then three Republican yes votes will be needed to pass the bill. Only one Republican, Bill Baroni, currently supports the marriage equality bill. Two potential supporters, Kip Bateman and Jen Beck, voted no in the Judiciary Committee, and another possible supporter, Diane Allen, is ill and reportedly will not make the vote. Sean Kean, while he voted no on civil unions, is apparently undecided. Tom Kean voted yes on civil unions but has stated his opposition to marriage equality in the past. Andrew Ciesla, who voted yes on civil unions and, in 1997, against banning “partial birth abortion,” might be in play. The other ten Senate Republicans are longshots.
The situation may be bleak, but if we learn from the experiences of two states that have already passed marriage equality this year, we know that now is not the time to give up.
Democratic leaders in the Vermont Legislature introduced the marriage equality bill confident that they would secure record margins for passage. But after Republican Governor Jim Douglas declared that he would veto the bill, they knew they would need every last vote they could muster.
On Monday, April 6, the Governor vetoed S.115. The Senate, which had passed the bill 26-4, easily overrode the Govenor’s veto by a vote of 23-5 the following day. Republican William Doyle, who had previously voted for the bill, voted against overriding his Governor’s veto. The real challenge would come in the Vermont House of Representatives, where the bill initially passed 94-52. A clear two-thirds (100) of the 150 representatives would have to vote yes to successfully override the veto, so supporters appeared to be six votes down. They could make up half of that deficit with the votes of three members who missed the vote on final passage, but at least three opponents needed to switch their votes for the bill pass assuming none of the half-dozen pro-equality House Republicans followed Senator Doyle’s lead.
Democrats thought they had found two of the three switchers they needed relatively quickly. Governor Douglas had annoyed Representatives Debbie Evans and Sonny Audette by announcing his veto plans before the legislature had a chane to act on the bill, and vowed to support override in the name of party unity. However, Audette had to stay home for health reasons, and was absent for the vote.
When time came to vote, the clerk began calling the names of the 150 Representatives, but only 18 votes were in any doubt. Early on, the vote looked to be going poorly. While three Republican yes votes held firm, only one (Evans) of the first ten Democratic opponents switched. The last three Republican supporters and two Democratic opponents would all have to vote yes, and one by one they did, until the future of marriage equality in Vermont rested on the decision of a gardener from St. Albans named Jeff Young. The freshman Democrat voted yes.
Thursday, April 23, 2009, might have been remembered as the day Marriage Equality died in the state of New Hampshire. That afternoon, the five-member New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee reported HB 436 as “inexpedient to legislate.” While the committee’s recommendation itself was not fatal—the Senate could choose to reject the recommendation when the bill came up for a vote the following week—the vote tally seemed to be. While two Democrats on the committee supported the bill, the third, Chairwoman Deborah Reynolds, sided with the Republicans in opposing HB 436. With no Republicans expected to support the bill, Democrats could afford to lose only one member of their 14-strong caucus, and it seemed as if they had already lost that one in Reynolds.
Less than a week before the vote, five Senators remained undecided, and all five would have to vote yes for the bill to pass. The undecided Senators included Senate President Sylvia Larsen, three Democratic women from politically marginal districts, and Lou D’Allesandro of Manchester, who advocated feared would oppose the bill on account of his Catholic faith. Three days before the vote, supporters were dealt another blow when Keivin Landrigan of the Nashua Telegraph reported that indicated that Democratic Senator Betsy DeVries also opposed the bill.
When the issue came up for a vote before the full Senate, DeVries and three other undecideds voted to reject the committee’s recommendation and in favor of the bill, but Lou D’Alessandro joined all 10 Senate Republicans in voting no. In an astonishing switch, Senator Reynolds voted to reject her own recommendation and pass the bill. Nonetheless, it would take another month and several more votes before Governor Lynch finally signed marriage equality into law.
On Thursday, we can take another step toward joining Vermont and New Hampshire in granting true equality to same-sex couples. Call your senator and tell him or her to vote for S1967. If you’ve already done so, do it again, and tell your friends and family to do the same. Vermont and New Hampshire have made history in 2009. Now it’s your turn, New Jersey.