Treated and released, Verga was home the next day and did not come to work, a key anti-gay-marriage redoubt removed from the equation.
“Could [the amendment’s defeat] have happened without Verga? Hard to say,” says David Guarino, then a top aide to former state House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and now a partner at Melwood Global. “When he announced he wasn’t going to vote, I think that may have given people who were going in that direction a little more comfort.”
The gay-marriage opponents were defeated, five votes shy, many of them changed in the final hours before the vote, when they knew they were one vote down with Verga convalescing.
“We had no level of absolute certainty which way it was going to go until the end,” Guarino said. “Every vote was critically important, and it was a white-knuckle moment.”
Verga laughs when recalling the vigorous conspiracy theorizing. Could he have voted that day? “I probably could have, but I was hurting that day,” he said.
It was a watershed moment for gay marriage. After Massachusetts sustained the practice, Connecticut allowed gay marriage. Then so did Iowa, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, New York—successive implementations that gathered momentum behind the institution within the Democratic Party, culminating on Wednesday when President Obama announced his backing. Each state made gay marriage more acceptable within the party—while drawing sustained backlash from opponents—and ratcheted up pressure on party leaders.
To be sure, anti-gay-marriage forces remain strong. Thirty states have constitutional amendments banning it. But within the party, the trend is clear. Of those most frequently mentioned for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination—Biden, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton—only Clinton has not publicly embraced gay marriage.
“I think it’s a domino effect,” says Verga, who demurred when asked about whether his misstep had been the slip heard ’round the world.
But Verga said he had undergone an evolution similar to Obama’s.
“I’m not bothered by gay marriage at all today,” he said. “But it was a different character at that time.”