BOSTON (Reuters) - Vermont legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after lawmakers overrode a veto from the governor by a wafer-thin margin, making the New England state the fourth in the United States where gays can wed.
The vote, nine years after Vermont was first in the United States to adopt a same-sex civil-union law, also makes the tiny state of 624,000 people the first in the nation to introduce gay marriage through legislative action instead of the courts.
"We've shown that truth and fairness and justice and love are more powerful than one man's veto pen," same-sex marriage advocate Beth Robinson said to cheers from supporters in the state capital of Montpelier after Vermont's House of Representatives passed the bill by a 100-49 vote.
Known for picturesque foliage, quaint dairy farms and a counter-culture spirit, Vermont joins New England neighbors Connecticut and Massachusetts in allowing gay marriage. Iowa legalized gay marriage last week.
Lawmakers in next-door New Hampshire and Maine are also considering bills to allow gay marriage, putting New England at the heart of a divisive national debate over the issue.
Washington D.C. extended new rights to gay couples on Tuesday, too, with a unanimous City Council vote to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the district. Some city lawmakers lauded the move as a prelude to legal same-sex marriage in the U.S. capital.
OVERRIDES GOVERNOR'S VETO
Vermont's bill, which becomes law on September 1, looked in peril after a 95-52 vote on Thursday in the Democratic-controlled House that was five votes short of the support needed to clear a veto from Republican Governor Jim Douglas.
Douglas vetoed the bill on Monday, urging lawmakers to focus on the economy instead. Supporters needed two-thirds of the votes in each chamber to override his veto. They got that easily in the state Senate, which passed the bill 23-5 earlier on Tuesday.
The vote came just four days after Iowa's Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that barred gays from marrying. The surprise ruling, which made Iowa the first in the heartland to allow same-sex marriages, may have influenced some Vermont lawmakers to change their vote, gay marriage advocates said.
California briefly recognized gay marriage until voters banned it in a referendum last year.
The group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which helped to legalize gay marriage in Massachusetts and Connecticut, has set a goal of expanding such marriages to all New England states by 2012. Maine and New Hampshire already offer same-sex couples some form of legal recognition.
Forty-three U.S. states have laws explicitly prohibiting gay marriage, including 29 with constitutional amendments restricting marriage to one man and one woman.