Douglas will veto same-sex marriage bill

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(Host) The effort to pass a same sex marriage bill has hit a major obstacle.

Governor Jim Douglas announced this afternoon that he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Supporters of the bill say they’re very disappointed, while opponents were elated.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel was at the statehouse for the announcement.

(Douglas) "Because I believe that by removing any uncertainty about my position we can move forward more quickly beyond this debate I’m announcing that I intend to veto this legislation when it reaches my desk."

(Kinzel) With those words, Governor Douglas ended weeks of speculation about his position on the same sex marriage bill.

Douglas said the bill has become a distraction at the Statehouse and is keeping lawmakers from acting on proposals to strengthen the Vermont economy and pass a balanced budget.

Douglas said he strongly opposes the legislation for two basic reasons:

(Douglas) "I believe that marriage has always been and ought to remain a union of a man and a woman I believe that the Civil Union law has afforded equal rights and benefits under state law to same sex couples and that that should suffice."

(Kinzel) The bill passed the Senate earlier this week by a 26 to 4 vote.  The House is expected to support the legislation next week.  Douglas said he plans to maintain a low profile during the legislative debate to override his veto:

(Douglas) "Unlike other bills where I exercise a veto I’m not going to do anything to talk to legislators to try to influence their decision they need to make this a matter of individual conscience."

(Kinzel) Beth Robinson is a member of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force and an advocate for the bill at the Statehouse.  She says she’s surprised that Douglas is "standing on the wrong side of history" with his veto:

(Robinson) "I’m profoundly disappointed I think this is a sad day for Vermont and Vermonters and I’m certainly looking forward to the opportunity to continue to work with the governor I don’t think this ends it…I think there are a lot of Vermonters who care deeply about their families who car deeply about civil rights and I think this is a signal to them that it’s time to be heard."

(Kinzel) While it appears likely that the Senate could override a gubernatorial veto, the situation in the House is less clear. Robinson says it’s much too early to begin that kind of speculation:

(Robinson) "I keep trying to avoid this game of jumping ahead and predicting vote counts we’re a week away from a House vote as far as I can tell we’re still in the committee process we don’t know what the final committee vote was and all the evidence hasn’t been taken so I’m trying to take this one day at a time."

(Kinzel) Meanwhile, opponents of the bill were thrilled. Former Shelburne Rep George Schiavone has been working to defeat the legislation:

(Schiavone) "I am pleased for a couple of reasons one that he stated that he is for traditional marriage and will back it up but the second thing is that I’m very pleased that he stepped out and said it at this time it’s very important for a person like him to just get out front say here’s how I feel the rest of your vote your conscience and I just think that’s a great move."

The measure could be on the House floor for a vote by the end of next week and the margin of victory at that time could tell a lot about the prospects of the House overriding the Governors veto.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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