Friday, March 27, 2009

Vermont Governor promoses to veto same-sex marriage bill

Calling the issue "a distraction," Governor Jim Douglas declared that he would veto the same-sex marriage bill working its way through the State of Vermont's Legislature. According to The Burlington Press Press:

The move surprised many, as Governor Douglas normally steadfastly refuses to comment on whether he will veto a bill until after it has made its way through the Legislature. The same-sex marriage bill passed the Senate this week, with a 26-4 vote, but the House Judiciary Committee had just started taking testimony Tuesday.

Opponents of the bill cheered Douglas’ announcement, while supporters argued that he should have waited until the debate had played out. “Thank you, Jim,” said the Rev. Craig Bensen of Cambridge, founder of Take it to the People, a same-sex-marriage opposition group.

“I am deeply disappointed that the governor has interfered with this process at this time,” said Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said as a gay person the legislation has deep personal meaning to him. “We will finish our work.”

While the legislation is expected to pass the House, supporters might not have the votes needed to override a veto.

Douglas said the decision was a deeply personal one. “I believe marriage should remain between a man and a woman,” he said. “That’s my belief.”

He said he believes civil unions, which Vermont was the first state to adopt in 2000 granting same-sex couples the rights of marriage, “serves Vermont well, and I would support congressional action to extend those benefits at the federal level to states that recognize same-sex unions.”

Same-sex marriage advocates have argued that civil unions do not offer the same rights, particularly because the concept is unknown and unaccepted outside the state. New York state, for example, recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but does not recognize civil unions. Douglas said he can only worry about laws in his own state.

Beth Robinson, of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, said she was surprised by Douglas’ announcement. “By his comments, he’s made clear he doesn’t understand the impact of the laws on gay and lesbian Vermonters,” she said.

Legislative leaders complained that Douglas is circumventing the legislative process.

“I’ve not actually had this happen before,” said House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown. “It seems to me that announcing a decision before the process has played out is essentially undermining our democratic system of government.”

Asked whether Douglas’ decision will make it harder for supporters of the bill to lure those who are on the fence, Smith said simply, “I don’t know.”

Douglas said in his 3½-minute statement, “I’m sure that legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they didn’t have the votes to override a veto,” but that question remains unanswered.

Smith wouldn’t address whether he has the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. If all 150 members of the House were present, it would take 100 votes to override a veto.

Supporters of the legislation have privately said they doubt they have that. However, George Schiavone, a former Republican representative from Shelburne who is lobbying members to vote against the bill, said he’s not so sure. “It’s within shooting distance,” he said of an override.

A veto override can be difficult to predict, as members might vote one way on the bill but then support their party caucus on an override vote. Democrats, Progressives and independents together have 102 members in the House. Republicans have 48 members.

Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a veto would not make the issue of same-sex marriage go away in Vermont. “You can’t stop it,” he said. “It’s coming back.”


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