The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill Friday that would allow same-sex marriage in the state. This vote came after a week of hearings on the issue. Vermont currently allows civil unions, but the current bill would expand benefits offered to same-sex couples.
The bill will now move to the state Senate. Even if the legislation passes in both houses of the state legislature, supporters are concerned that Republican Governor Jim Douglas would veto the measure. A spokeswoman for the Governor told the New York Times that “Governor Douglas believes that this legislation is a distraction from the important work the legislature should be doing to get our economy back on track.”
Former state Representative Republican Tom Shelburne, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee when the state legalized civil unions in 2000, testified during the hearings that “The question before this committee is if Act 91 is fulfilling its promise. Allowing same-sex couples to marry would grant them access to less tangible benefits. This would include the use of words such as marriage, wedding, marry, celebration and divorce words that have historical, social and cultural significance,” according to United Press International.
Vermont became the first state to give civil recognition to gay and lesbian couples with the passage of legislation that established civil unions in the state in 2000. At the time, this law granted same-sex partners the most comprehensive system of domestic partner benefits in the nation, qualifying them for the some 300 rights and benefits available to married couples in the state.