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Vermont on cusp of legalizing same-sex marriage

  • Story Highlights
  • Vermont poised to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage
  • It would be the first time a state took the action without being forced by courts
  • Vermont's governor opposes the bill and has called the measure a 'distraction'
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By Alan Silverleib
CNN
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(CNN) -- Vermont is weighing a bill that could make it the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being prompted by the courts.

Vermont could become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without prompting from courts.

Vermont could become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without prompting from courts.

The state's House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday afternoon to consider a bill that the Vermont Senate passed Monday by a vote of 26-4.

The House is expected to pass the bill.

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, however, has said he opposes the bill.

"Governor Douglas agrees with President Obama that marriage is between a man and a woman. He supports Vermont's current civil union law, which provides equal rights, benefits, and responsibilities to Vermonters in civil unions," said the governor's spokeswoman, Dennise Casey.

The governor "believes this bill is a distraction from the important work the legislature needs to do to pass a responsible budget and get our economy going again," Casey added.

It is unclear whether both chambers of the state legislature would vote to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

Vermont made history in 2000 by becoming the first state to approve civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that allow same-sex marriage. Vermont, New Hampshire, and New Jersey allow civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Vermont legalized civil unions nine years ago in response to a ruling from its high court.

Nationwide, the issue of same-sex marriage remains highly divisive. A June 2008 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that 44 percent of adult Americans believe gay marriage should be recognized by law as valid; 53 percent are opposed.

The issue took center stage in the nation's largest state last November, when California voters narrowly approved a proposition amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. California had been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a May 2008 ruling by the state Supreme Court legalized the unions.

California's high court heard arguments three weeks ago in a case tackling the constitutionality of the controversial ballot proposition. It has not yet issued a decision.

The 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act effectively bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions by defining marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

All About VermontSame-Sex Marriage

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