Some lawmakers will decide same-sex marriage vote during the debate

04/01/09 6:32PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Alden Pellett
(Host intro) Backers of the same sex marriage bill say they expect it to pass easily when the House debates the legislation on Thursday.

But they say it's very difficult to predict exactly how many votes it will attract. That's because a number of undecided House members are expected to make up their minds during the course of the debate.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The lobbying on this issue has been intense at the Statehouse.  House members are being overwhelmed with emails and phone calls from both supporters and opponents of the bill and Statehouse pages can be seen carrying dozens of pink telephone slips to different members with messages about the legislation.

House Speaker Shap Smith is a strong supporter of the bill.  Smith says this is one vote where partisan politics doesn't play a major role. Instead individual members are being asked to vote their conscience.

(Smith) "I've actually asked members of my caucus to keep an open mind and to listen to the testimony and to consider the testimony. It is not something that we have put forward as a caucus issue."

(Kinzel) Smith says it's very hard to know if supporters in the House will garner enough votes to override Governor Douglas's promised veto of the legislation.

(Smith) "I expect to have a very strong vote on the marriage equality bill. I think, actually, it's difficult to count at this moment because I think actually the discussion on the floor will influence how people vote. I think we saw that when the civil unions debate happened."

(Kinzel) One of the House members who will make up his mind during the debate is Burlington Rep. Kurt Wright. He says he's getting a lot of advice about how he should vote.

(Wright) "I'm hearing from of course people all over the country, hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of emails from out of state. But I'm also hearing from a lot of people in the state and a lot of people from within my district, both opponents and proponents of it."

(Kinzel) Wright says there are two key factors that he's weighing as he tries to reach a decision.

(Wright) "Ten years ago I probably would have opposed this. But I'm coming from a different place now. ...Obviously the crux of the issue is there are a significant group of people that believe strongly and passionately that this issue is about a time-honored tradition that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman only. And there is a very large group also that believe that this issue is about equality and civil rights. And, frankly, that is what I am trying to kind of grapple between the two issues. And I have yet to determine that."

(Kinzel) The House will vote on the legislation after it considers the state budget for next year.  This means that it's likely that the debate will extend well into the evening hours.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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