- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) | The Vermont House advanced a bill Thursday that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

The bill, which has already cleared the state Senate, was passed in a 95-52 vote - enough for approval but not enough to override a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican.

It comes up for final approval Friday, a largely procedural step before being sent to the governor.

Vermont, which pioneered civil unions nine years ago, would become the third state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry if the bill becomes law. Massachusetts and Connecticut already do.

Earlier, hundreds of partisans packed the House balcony and the seats around its edges, with supporters saying it would bring gay and lesbian couples to full equality and opponents saying it would dilute the meaning of traditional marriage.

Rep. William J. Lippert, a Democrat who is gay, said Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil unions law in 2000 was a compromise, and that now the state should “boldly take the next step to full equality for gay and lesbian couples by passing Senate Bill 115.”

Lobbying efforts aimed at swaying lawmakers continued in the hours leading up to the vote. At midday, about 200 gay marriage opponents gathered on the Statehouse steps to urge defeat of the bill and to thank Mr. Douglas, a Republican who announced last week his intent to veto the bill when it reaches his desk.

The 150-member House has 95 Democrats and five members of the left-leaning Progressive Party; the bill was expected to pass easily.

Mr. Douglas wasn’t pushing fellow Republicans to oppose the bill. “This is such a tough, personal, emotional decision that I have not told people what to do,” he said Thursday.

Opponents want a statewide referendum on the question. Vermont’s constitution does not permit binding referendums, so such a vote would be nonbinding. An amendment offered Thursday would have replaced the bill with one calling for a vote by Vermont residents, but it was rejected in a 96-52 vote.

“Any issue this big deserves a vote of the people before it becomes the law of the people,” said same-sex marriage opponent Craig Bensen, leader of Take It to the People. “Let Vermont vote!”

Critics of the referendum plan said they worry that Vermont would be inundated with out-of-state money and “robo-calls” from national groups.

They said that happened in California as the state prepared for a vote in which it reversed a decision from its highest court legalizing same-sex marriage.

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