By Adam Silverman, USA TODAY
The Vermont Senate on Monday evening overwhelmingly passed a bill legalizing gay marriage, making the state the first in the nation to take legislative rather than judicial steps toward granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The state Senate voted 26-4 in favor of the measure introduced by Democratic state Sen. John Campbell. The bill now goes to the state House, where Speaker Shap Smith, also a Democrat, predicted a majority would vote in favor of the "marriage equality" act. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin debating the bill Tuesday. A second vote in the state Senate also is expected Tuesday.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, has refused to answer questions about whether he would sign the measure, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. He has said that he believes marriage should be between one man and one woman.
Smith refused to say Monday whether he believed there were enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House to override a gubernatorial veto.
Vermont became the first state in the nation to enact civil unions for gay couples nearly 10 years ago, but advocates say the following decade has demonstrated that civil unions and marriage, as separate institutions, are unequal and relegate same-sex couples to second-class status.
If the marriage bill becomes Vermont law, the state would be the first in the country to enact gay marriage by a vote of the Legislature. Other states that permit homosexual couples to wed have done so by court order.
Debate in the state has been passionate and intense, especially as the proposal began moving through discussions in the Senate last week. A public hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse drew more than 1,000 people to Montpelier to voice opinions for and against the bill.
Tuesday, March 24
Same-sex marriage measure sails through Vt. Senate