Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vermont Dems pledge g/l marriage bill passage

MONTPELIER, Vermont (Observer Update) - The state leaders of the House and Senate have announced they will begin work on passing a marriage equality bill when the Legislature returns March 16, reported.

At a joint news conference at the State House Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin (D) and Speaker of the House Shap Smith (D) said the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a week of testimony and a public hearing on the bill beginning March 16.

The bill was introduced last month, with 59 sponsors in the House - all Democrats.

Shumlin and Smith said they expected the committee to approve the measure and that it would easily make it through both houses despite Republican opposition.

Vermont was the first state in the country to legalize civil unions in 2000. Since then LGBT groups have criticized the law for creating a “two tiered” system - marriage for opposite-sex couples and civil unions for gays.

An 11-member commission was set up last year by Shumlin and Smith to look into the civil unions law to see if it is providing equality for gay and lesbian couples.

It submitted its report to the legislature last April, but made no recommendations on revising the law to allow for same-sex marriage.

Shumlin, who spearheaded the civil union bill nine years ago, said at the news conference that the law hasn’t kept up with the times. Massachusetts and Connecticut allow same-sex marriage and gay marriage bills are under consideration in Maine and New Hampshire.

“[I]t’s become clear that we can and should work to pass a bill promoting the equal right to marry this year,” Shumlin told reporters.

But if the bill passes the legislature it is doubtful Republican Gov. James Douglas will sign it.

Douglas, through a spokesperson, said that the governor believes civil unions are sufficient.

“Gov. Douglas believes that we have achieved equality through our civil union law,” said Douglas’ Deputy Chief of Staff Dennise Casey.

Last November, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Boston-based LGBT rights group that brought the successful legal challenges leading to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and Connecticut launched the “Six by Twelve” campaign to legalize gay marriage throughout all six New England states by 2012.

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