Hundreds gather to protest Douglas veto threat
By DANIEL BARLOW Vermont Press Bureau | March 27,2009
MONTPELIER - Same-sex marriage supporters vowed Friday to protest Gov. James Douglas wherever he travels until he reverses his vow to veto a bill working its way through the Vermont Legislature.
Hundreds of supporters turned out at the Statehouse Friday morning to rally support for the bill legalizing gay marriage, two days after the Republican governor made the surprise announcement that he would reject the legislation if it comes to his desk.
"This issue is not going away," said Paul O'Kane of Waterbury, who attended the rally with his civil union partner, Robert Tranchida. "We're going to follow the governor around the state and protest until he changes his mind."
The Cedar Creek Room at the Statehouse was packed with a crowd flowing out into the hallways as the Democratic leadership urged supporters of same-sex marriage to speak to House lawmakers who may be on the fence on the issue.
"No one said this would be easy," Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, told the crowd. "But we are more determined than ever to overcome his veto."
Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, said there are more than 75 strong supporters of the bill in the Vermont House - and they are pushing for a stronger majority of 100. Lawmakers would need 101 votes in that chamber to overcome a veto.
He said some lawmakers are struggling with the issue and - just as some did during the civil unions debate nearly a decade ago - won't make up their minds until the hour of the vote. He said supporters need to convince these lawmakers.
"I look forward to May 8 when we've passed a marriage equality bill and we all have the same rights," added House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown.
About eight same-sex marriage supporters met with Douglas in his office for 10 minutes Friday morning. Beth Robinson, an attorney with the group Vermont Freedom to Marry, said gay and lesbian Vermonters shared their stories and expressed their frustration with his veto threat.
It had not been clear beforehand whether that brief meeting would even happen. The rally was scheduled to coincide with the governor's legislative open door session - where he greets lawmakers and other interested parties in his ceremonial Statehouse office. But that session disappeared from the governor's public schedule on his Web site Thursday, less than 24 hours after the rally time was revealed (a cached version of the page from a day earlier found through Google still showed the session on his schedule).
Douglas spokeswoman Dennise Casey said early Thursday evening that the session was still on, although she did not answer questions as to why it was removed from his public schedule.
"We understand that supporters and opponents of S.115 intend to come by during that time and we hope and expect that folks will be respectful and tolerant of each other," Casey said in a statement Thursday night.
After meeting with the governor, Robinson said his position hadn't changed.
"We made it clear to him that we are part of the Vermont community," Robinson said. "And we deserve fairness and equal treatment under the law."