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Douglas: Odd Man Out? 

Bernie Sanders

Published March 25, 2009 at 6:43 p.m.

Gov. Jim Douglas surprised many today by coming out (so to speak), saying that he will veto same-sex legislation if it passes the House and reaches his desk.

So much for taking the political milquetoast route many in Montpelier expected the guv to take as I pointed out in this week's column. He stands passionately for very few things, and many find it odd that he would take such a stand when even some leaders in his party — such as House Minority Leader Patti Komline (R-Dorset) — support it.

She's taken plenty of heat for it, but she firmly believes the GOP in Vermont shouldn't be on the wrong side of history on this one, or any other issue around civil rights. So has Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland) who supported the measure in the Senate Judiciary Committee and again on the Senate floor.

For weeks Douglas has emphatically stated he does not support same-sex marriage and believes it a distraction for lawmakers. He'd rather see them tackling economic issues, rather than issues of civil rights, er, same-sex marriage.  However, he's been cagey on if he'd veto the bill, or let it go into law without his signature. No longer.

What is clear is that Douglas is in the minority when it comes to Vermont's elected officials when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Even a majority of Vermont's Congressional delegation supports same-sex marriage. Rep. Peter Welch (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) are in favor, but Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) is mum on the issue, saying he doesn't want to involve himself with the Legislature.

"While the question of whether Vermont should legalize gay marriage is a state issue, Congressman Welch does personally support legalizing gay marriage," said Paul Heintz, Welch's spokesman.

"Senator Sanders has long believed marriage is a matter of state, not federal, law. Personally, he believes in marriage equality," said Michael Briggs, Sanders' spokesman.

Unlike Douglas, and his fellow DC delegates, Leahy doesn't want his opinion to sway lawmakers' votes.

"He believes Vermont's Legislature and Governor are empowered to decidethis, as the Vermont Supreme Court has clearly ruled," said DavidCarle, Leahy's spokesman. "His practice has always been not to tell theVermont Legislature what it should or should not do."

That said, last month Leahy introduced the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), which would amend provisions in U.S. immigration law that bar US residents in same-sex relationships from using the family immigration system and sponsoring their partners.

Under current law, a US citizen is permitted to sponsor his or her spouse for a green card under the family immigration system.  The UAFA would extend this right to same-sex couples by adding “or permanent partner” to sections of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that apply to legally married couples.  Under the proposed legislation, a “permanent partner” is described as an adult who is in a committed, intimate, financially interdependent relationship with another adult in “which both parties intend a lifelong commitment.”

The mayor of Vermont's largest city — Progressive Bob Kiss — is also weighing in on the issue and asking city councilor to join him in support of same-sex marriage. He's drafted a letter calling on Chittenden County lawmakers and the guv to back the bill. May be too late on this one.

A draft version of the letter reads:

The legislation now under consideration by the Legislature to achieve marriage equality is past due. Nine years ago Vermont led the nation when it legalized civil unions for same-sex couples. Yet we continue to deny the right of marriage – for our friends, family members and constituents – to same-sex couples. Our experience in Vermont with civil unions confirms that our best and most important decisions are based on a long of history of commitment to fairness, equality, individual liberties, and civil rights.

We have an opportunity to fulfill these principles and enact real change for all the people of Vermont by passing a same-sex marriage law. We urge you all to act now and support civil marriage rights in the State of Vermont for same sex couples

The Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force is holding a rally Friday morning at the Statehouse during the time set aside for Gov. Douglas to have a legislative open door inside his ceremonial office under the Golden Dome. The open door event starts at 9 a.m.

Something tells me it may get a little crowded. Get there early if you plan to attend.

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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