There could be a major roadblock for the gay marriage bill in Montpelier. Gov. Jim Douglas said he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.
The governor told reporters he doesn't typically announce his intentions like this so far ahead of time, but said he thinks it's the only way to stop speculation about what his move may be, to refocus lawmakers' attention on the state budget.
"I'm announcing I will veto this legislation when it reaches my desk," Douglas said.
Explaining same-sex marriage is a deeply personal issue that crosses political lines, Vermont's Republican governor said he will not sign a bill into law allowing gays and lesbians to marry.
"I believe marriage has always been and ought to remain the union of a man and a woman," Douglas said. "I believe the civil unions law has offered equal rights and benefits under state law to same-sex couples and that should suffice."
"I see this as the civil rights movement of our generation. And I don't want to leave Governor Douglas behind," said Beth Robinson, of the Vt. Freedom to Marry Task Force.
Democratic leaders called the governor's announcement an insult to the political process.
"We haven't even passed the bill. We shouldn't even talk about whether we will override it yet," said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker.
The move puts the pressure squarely on the House. It can override a governor's veto with a two-thirds majority. Speaker Smith says he works closely with Progressives and Republicans, but since gay marriage is such a personal decision, not all about political parties, he's not sure he has the votes. House Judiciary chairman Bill Lippert-- himself openly gay-- held back tears over his frustration.
"This touches the hearts of your neighbors and friends. It touches my heart. I am deeply disappointed the governor has interfered with this process at this time," said Lippert, D-Hinesburg. "But as the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, we will continue this work and we will move forward."
Governor Douglas said he thinks Democratic leaders would not have advanced the bill if they did not have enough votes to override a veto, but because the issue is so personal and divisive legislative leaders say there's no guarantee. But of course Douglas acknowledged he will have no choice but to accept same-sex marriages if the house can get the numbers.
As for the governor's intention of refocusing lawmakers' attention on the budget, lawmakers argue they can handle several issues at once through various committees and that gay marriage is not distracting them from work on the budget. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, added that no matter what the governor wants them to do, the marriage debate is not going away because it's been a hot button issue for more than a decade.
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