Opponents of same-sex marriage bill push for non binding referendum

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary committee is set to vote Friday on the same-sex marriage bill.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, opponents of the bill want to include a non binding statewide referendum in the legislation.

(Kinzel) Vermont doesn’t have a binding citizen’s referendum process like some other states, but the non binding approach has been used several times over the past 70 years.

The most recent example came in the late 1970s, when Vermonters were asked their opinion about creating a state lottery.

Rutland senator Kevin Mullin thinks this issue is a case where a statewide referendum is needed and he says he’ll propose it when the Senate Judiciary committee votes on the same sex marriage bill – the referendum would be held in November of 2010:

(Mullin) "So I don’t think that 180 people here in Montpelier have the infinite wisdom that’s going to be the right decision to make…I think most Vermonters are feeling frustrated that we’re not doing a thorough review and this is one way at least to be able to get everybody to participate in the process of having the dialogue and coming to a rational decision."

Former Shelburne Rep. Tom Little chaired the House Judiciary committee when the Civil Union law was passed 9 years ago.

Little told members of the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week that he opposes the referendum idea:

(Little) "If you accept the premise that what is at stake is a constitutional or civil or human right of a group of Vermonters who have historically been discriminated against as a minority, then putting the outcome up to a referendum of the majority is not fair. It’s not appropriate."

Governor Jim Douglas says he doesn’t support holding a non binding referendum because he says the plan will prolong the public debate over same sex marriage for another two years.

Douglas thinks the issue is distracting lawmakers from dealing with important economic issues, so he’s urging the Legislature to vote on the bill as soon as possible:

(Douglas) "My first choice is not to be dealing with it at all so that we can spend all of our valuable time improving the economy and creating more jobs in Vermont. But since they seem intent on dealing with it, I think the better approach is to get it over with quickly."

If the Senate Judiciary committee votes the bill out on Friday, it’s likely the legislation will be debated on the Senate floor early next week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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