Critics say Senate leaders are rushing the vote on gay marriage

03/17/09 5:53PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/T. Talbot
Gay marriage opponents at the Vermont Statehouse on Monday.

(Host) Are Senate Democratic leaders trying to rush through a vote on the gay marriage bill? 

That's the question being raised by a number of senators. The Senate Judiciary committee is set to vote on the legislation this Friday - a week after the committee began to deliberate the bill.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is a member of the Senate Judiciary committee who's upset with the timetable that's been established for the gay marriage bill.

Mullin was a member of the House when the Civil Union law was passed in 2000 and he notes that the House Judiciary committee took the first half of the session to draft that legislation.

Mullin says that timetable is in sharp contrast to the five days that the Senate Judiciary committee has allocated for the gay marriage bill this year:

(Mullin) "You have a bill introduced at the last minute this wasn't something that was introduced at the beginning of the session and clearly the majority of the Judiciary committee did not have this on their radar screen and yet because the Democratic leadership wants to take this bill up at this time we're being forced to do that."

(Kinzel) Mullin says a special state commission raised many questions about implementing a gay marriage law and he says he's disappointed that his committee isn't spending much time on these concerns:

(Mullin) "I don't think the members of the Commission ever envisioned this was going to be a rush job by the Legislature and I think it does a disservice to the bill basically to try to run it through without having the proper review...I just don't think we're doing the public any service by not doing a very thorough job on this bill."

(Kinzel) However, Senate Judiciary committee chairman Dick Sears thinks the one week timetable is appropriate for this bill:

(Sears) "Would we like a month?  I don't think it's necessary. I think that the committee itself - many members worked on Civil Unions - the issues are not that complex. Quite frankly it's an emotional issue, a highly emotional issue. I can understand the public's perception that we're rushing, but it really is not like some of the bills that we work on here that are really complex."

(Kinzel) And Sears says he's not surprised by the requests to devote more time to the legislation:

(Sears) "Part of what we're hearing from the opponents is we're rushing, but we hear that on a lot of issues that somebody is opposed to. So I think we're giving it adequate time. Will we reach our Friday deadline? I expect we will but you never know."

(Kinzel) The House and Senate Judiciary committees will hold a public hearing on the gay marriage bill Wednesday night at the Statehouse.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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