Douglas on gay marriage: 'I don't support it'
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | March 11,2009
Gov. James Douglas has come out in opposition to gay marriage.
MONTPELIER — A few days after Democratic legislative leaders pledged to make gay marriage a top priority, Gov. James Douglas used stronger language than he has in the past to express his opposition to the bill on a variety of fronts.
"I don't support it. I really believe the civil union law we have now is sufficient," Douglas said during a meeting of the editorial board Tuesday at the Times-Argus office. "I don't see the need to have … a divisive debate about this topic."
With support of lawmakers — including likely a few Republicans — the bill creating gay marriage in Vermont is likely to reach Douglas' desk. Then the governor will have three choices. He could sign the bill, giving it his support, he could let it become law without his signature or he could veto it.
In 2000, the state was the first in the nation to pass a civil unions measure that provides some of the same rights and protections as marriage.
Douglas has made it a policy not to make veto threats, and Tuesday he declined to say what he will do if the bill reaches him.
But Douglas said lawmakers in every committee should concentrate on budgetary and economic development issues. If a gay-marriage bill reaches his desk before an economic development bill, "I won't be pleased," he said.
Beth Robinson, an attorney with the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce, said if Douglas does not consider the bill a civil rights issue and considers the current law to be adequate, perhaps he would consider trading in his marriage for a civil union.
The civil union law was always viewed as a step toward equality — not an achievement of that goal, Robinson said.
"No one ever pretended they provide full and equal rights," she said.
And Douglas is missing one — if not the central — reason for passing a gay-marriage bill that will have a positive effect on the Vermont economy, Robinson added.
"That is not the reason to do this," she said. "But in tough economic times, I don't think we can pass up any opportunity to bring advantages to Vermont businesses."
Just as the state's hospitality businesses saw an economic benefit of the civil union law, the state will also see a benefit from a gay marriage bill becoming law, Robinson said.
"This is not a distraction from our economic situation, it is one factor in a multipronged approach," she said. "I think it will be significant."
Massachusetts, for instance, has used its gay marriage statute as a way to attempt to draw workers in technology fields from California, Robinson said.
"The Vermont brand sells and equal rights, progressive social values are part of that brand," she said.
But Douglas said the main work of the Legislature in this year of layoffs and declining state revenue should lie elsewhere.
"I don't believe it is necessary and it is divisive at a time when we should be concentrating on creating jobs," he said.
He has not heard much about the gay marriage bill in his travels through the state recently, either for or against it, Douglas said.
"It doesn't come up a lot frankly," he said. "It is all about the economy."