On Friday, HRC presented Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith with an HRC Equality Award for his "vision, commitment and heart" in the fight for marriage equality in the Green Mountain State. Over 200 legislators and former colleagues, family and friends, including Congressman Peter Welch, attended the retirement reception to thank Smith for his leadership and hard work as the 90th Speaker for the Vermont House of Representatives.
In 2000, the Vermont legislature became the first state in our nation to give legal recognition to same-sex couples, via a new status called "Civil Unions." Beth Robinson, who is now a Vermont Supreme Court Justice, Susan Murray and Mary Bonauto, who later argued the winning marriage equality case in Massachusetts in 2004 and argued the historic marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges successfully at the Supreme Court in 2015, led the legal case.
In 2009, under the leadership of then Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (now governor) and Smith, Vermont became the fourth state to recognize marriage equality (after Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa). More importantly, Vermont was the first to pass marriage into law without a court mandate.
After the legislature passed marriage equality, then-Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The Senate easily overrode the governor, but pundits knew that the votes were not there to override in the House.
Smith worked closely with Vermont Freedom To Marry and others to build support for an override. Speaker Smith used every bit of his personal and political capital to win over the final votes. On April 8, with tension in the air as the roll call began in alphabetical order, everyone knew the key vote was of Representative Jeff Young. As Smith called each member's name inside the historic House Chamber, the tension grew as the roll-call slowly made its way through the alphabet. When Representative Young's name was finally called and he said "Yay" to override, gasps were heard, tears began rolling and people hugged.
The House chamber erupted with cheers and applause as Smith announced the results, 100-49, with his voice cracking. "You have overridden the veto," Smith said. For the first time in 20 years, the Vermont legislature overrode a Governor's veto, and it was by a one-vote margin.
It was an honor to be in Montpelier to present Smith with the award and HRC is proud to call Smith an ally in the fight for LGBT equality.
Above: Three Vermont House Speakers: Flanking Shap Smith with his HRC Equality Award: Mike Obuchowski, who led the fight for civil unions in 2000 and Gaye Symington, who led the multi-year effort to win back a pro-equality majority after civil union's 2000 losses.