Vt. moving closer to gay marriage

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Nine years after becoming the first state to permit civil unions, Vermont moved a step toward legalizing gay marriage last Friday.

A bill that would allow same-sex unions was introduced in the Legislature, drawing a crowd of several-hundred supporters at the Statehouse in celebration.

“This really is a great day and a part of moving forward to a time when all Vermont couples will be treated equally under our laws,” said a sponsor, Rep. Mark Larson.

A similar bill is expected to be introduced later in the state Senate.

The House legislation has 59 sponsors, none of them Republican, though some GOP lawmakers have said they’ll back it, Larson said.

“I know that there’s broad support in the House,” he said.

Despite the enthusiasm, it’s unclear if the measure will see any action this session, with lawmakers preoccupied with the state’s fiscal crisis that has led to voluntary pay cuts, court closings and Gov. Jim Douglas’ proposal to lay off more than 600 state workers.

“We’re still trying to decide whether it’s something that we would do this year,” said Democratic House Speaker Shap Smith, who supports the bill.

Supporters don’t expect the debate over gay marriage to be as rancorous as the one over civil unions, which triggered a yearlong battle and the ballot-box defeat of some supportive lawmakers.

In nine years, the atmosphere in Vermont has changed, said Rep. David Zuckerman, a co-sponsor from the Progressive Party.

“Nothing significant changed for many, many Vermonters nine years ago. There was this great fear. And what we’ve really seen in the last nine years is that fear was unfounded,” he said.

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