This week, Vermont became the fourth state to recognize gay marriage. More significantly, it became the first state to enact it legislatively, and not by judicial fiat.
Prior to this, every victory in the cause of advancing same-sex marriage had come about through the courts. And every attempt to bring about its legalization via some sort of democratic process had failed. Every time the American people were given a choice in the matter, either directly or through elected representatives, it was defeated.
In Massachusetts, the legislature avoided the issue and let the Supreme Judicial Court make the decision. In California, the courts did likewise — and the people responded by passing a Constitutional amendment via ballot initiative that banned gay marriage. And recently, Ohio’s courts also found a way to justify gay marriage.
Strategically speaking, Vermont’s way is the only way that gay marriage will come to pass in a lasting fashion. It will take the acceptance — or, at least, the grudging resignation — of a majority of the citizenry in each state for it to be legal, and stay that way.
When the battle is decided in the courts, by a handful of (most often unelected) judges and the will of the people is circumvented (or, as in California’s case, overruled), it tends to galvanize the opponents and redoubles their commitment.
The American people value their freedom, their right to influence the government, their ability to shape policy that affects them. They get understandably cranky when that right is infringed upon, and — if they are pushed hard enough about an issue they care about — they will rise up and demand that their voice be heard, and listened to.
In California, they chose to fight that. In Vermont, they chose to respect a legislative process.
Guess which state will still be fighting about this for years to come.