Vt. House to introduce same-sex marriage bill
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | February 06,2009
MONTPELIER Ė Members of the House of Representatives will introduce a bill today that, if passed, would make marriage for same-sex couples the law of the land in Vermont.
Although the bill is expected to start through the process today, it may be some time before it comes to the floor of the House. In fact, it is not clear if the House bill will move first or a similar measure expected in the Senate will launch the legislative debate.
In addition, activists who support same-sex marriage are scheduled to work on the issue in the Statehouse today.
"It seemed like the right convergence of circumstances," said Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, the lead sponsor of the House bill. "It's time."
The measure has a significant amount of support, with 59 co-sponsors, including Progressive David Zuckerman of Burlington. No Republicans are among the co-sponsors, although the measure is expected to gain the support of at least some of the House's 48 Republicans if it makes its way to the floor.
Likewise, some Democrats, particularly those from more conservative districts, are likely to vote against it.
"I am confident when the bill comes to the floor it will have tri-partisan support, which is what really matters," Larson said.
Republican House Leader Patti Komline of Dorset, for one, said she will support the bill.
"I consider it a civil rights issue," she said.
Activists and supporters among lawmakers have been pushing for the measure for several years. Given the divisiveness and opposition stirred up by the state's civil union measure Ė passed in 2000, the first law in the country to grant same-sex couples many of the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples Ė its introduction sparks some worries among legislators.
What is not clear is if opposition will be as strong to a same-sex marriage bill now that other states have approved similar measures since civil unions became law.
"I believe we have come a long way," said Larson, who added he believes his bill will be less controversial than the debate over civil unions. His bill also explicitly deals only with civil ceremonies and does not force religious institutions to participate in marriage ceremonies they do not believe in, Larson said.
Gov. James Douglas said he continues to believe that lawmakers should put aside the idea of a same-sex marriage bill and deal instead with economic development and the state's budget.
"We have got to focus on fiscal and economic issues," Douglas said. "That should occupy every spare moment the Legislature has."
Legislative leaders said those fiscal issues remain their priority.
"I support gay marriage and I know it is the right thing to do," Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said. But the timing of when the bill will move and in which body has yet to be worked out, the Windham Democrat added.
Speaker of the House Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said the House will focus first on those economic and fiscal issues, particularly in key committees.
But, he added, "we do have more than three committees and I would expect us to take a look at other bills as the session moves forward," he said.