Filled to capacity and with plenty of overflow, Vermont’s Statehouse in Montpelier played host yesterday evening to a crowd of about 1,000 citizens debating whether full gay marriage should come to the state, updating nine years of civil union rights. In a joint House-Senate hearing, legislator’s welcomed public comment with a vote coming as soon as tomorrow. And listen to this: The crowds were civilized! Guess what? Not everyone thinks gays should have equal rights.
Some 70 folks got a chance to speak on both sides, though some 200 signed up. Heard were arguments like this one from Leona Day: “I believe in marriage and I don’t think it was ever meant to be with people of the same sex.” And this one, from Roberto Deane: “It’s that instant, automatic recognition you get from the state — you’re one of us,” he said, hoping for equal rights, reports the Burlington Free Press.
On Friday, Vermont’s Senate judiciary committee is expected to vote on the matter, which then puts it before the full Senate and from there, to the House. And while Democrats control both chambers, there’s the small matter of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, who says he doesn’t support gay marriage, though hasn’t said outright whether he would veto a bill.
And if all those obstacles are cleared, Vermonters will be enjoying maple syrup and same-sex marriage by September.
Now, here was the scene from last night’s hearing:
Gay-marriage backers wore yellow buttons that emphasized equality. Waiting inside, they found plenty on the other side whose buttons told the Legislature not to mess with God’s wishes, NewsChannel 5’s Stewart Ledbetter reported.
Gene Lauer, of North Ferrisburgh, went to the Statehouse with his wife to support a change in the law. Lauer said the issue is personal, as his son, who is gay, and had to travel to Canada to marry his partner five years ago.
But a large number of gay marriage opponents has also come to Montpelier, equally determined to be heard. The first in line to speak was an elderly woman from Barre Town, who said she hopes to convince lawmakers if Vermont becomes the nation’s third state to legalize same-sex marriage, a new generation of children won’t know their grandparents, and will “live in chaos.”
The hearing comes on the eve of Friday’s scheduled vote by the Senate committee, a process critics said is rushed, by design. Judiciary Chairman Dick Sears said he will vote for the marriage bill on Friday, saying it’s possible there will be a 5-0 vote.
Republican Gov. Jim Douglas said he opposes the marriage bill, calling it “divisive”, but has refused to say whether he will veto the bill should it come to his desk. Vermont has had civil unions for nine years.
Despite the crowd, which spilled over into every public room at the Statehouse, police reported no problems and the event remained respectful. [WPTZ]