Gay marriage opponents under siege


Saturday, April 4
BENNINGTON — Local representatives could play a critical role in whether lawmakers are able to override Gov. James Douglas' pledged veto of a same-sex marriage bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the House Friday.

Although approved by a wide margin, 94 to 52, the House vote falls several votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, which Douglas, a fourth-term Republican, has promised. Supporters will need 100 votes, or two thirds of the 150 members, if every representative is present for the override vote.

Intense lobbying is now underway at the Statehouse by groups on both sides of the issue. Some say the heaviest pressure is being applied by the Democratic caucus on members who voted against the bill.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, who voted against the bill, said she has been approached by members of her party who suggested that she will be targeted for defeat in 2010 if she does not vote to override Douglas. "People are bringing to bear all the pressure that they can," she said.

One legislator said members of the Democratic caucus began pushing legislators last week to support an override. Democrats are said to be coaching members opposed to same-sex marriage on how they can justify voting to override a veto.

Elizabeth Saxe, an aide to House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, said Friday she was not aware of what lawmakers were discussing in meetings. "The Speaker is having conversations with his members as he always does, Democrats, Progressives and Independents," Saxe said.

Justice of the peace

Browning, who is a justice of the peace, said civil unions have already granted same-sex couples the same state rights as heterosexual couples. Any benefits not granted to same-sex couples reside at the federal level, over which the bill has no jurisdiction, she said.

Browning said her vote had nothing to do with religion, but rather the fundamental purpose of marriage. "It's not based on religion. It's actually based on a view of how our society works ... on an anthropological basis," she said.

Browning said her vote was based on her principles. In fact, she said it is likely that slightly more constituents urged her to support the bill rather than oppose it. But she said the calls and e-mails she received were not an "exact scientific poll" of how her constituents felt.

"I have no reason to be here if I abandon my principles, even if I do something that may prove to be wrong," she said.

The governor has a right to veto the bill, Browning said, and she is not likely to vote in favor of overturning his veto. "I have not made a decision right now, but I find it hard to believe that something could change my mind," she said.

Rep. Timothy Corcoran II, a Bennington Democrat, also voted against the bill. He called the decision the most difficult of his seven years in Montpelier. "It came down to what my belief of what marriage is, and that is between a man and a woman," he said. "I just couldn't get over that at the end of the day."

"I'm going to have to live with it," Corcoran added. "No matter how I voted it was going to upset a lot of people. It's unfortunate, but that's my job, and ultimately I will be held accountable."

Corcoran said lawmakers are facing heavy pressure to cast their votes in certain ways, but he declined to elaborate on who was applying that pressure.

Corcoran said legislators who vote against the bill and then vote to override Douglas' veto "are going to look a little bit funny," and will have "a lot of explaining to do" to their constituents.

"To change your vote to override a governor a few days later doesn't make sense to me," he said. "I haven't heard an argument where I've been persuaded to change my vote. I think this is a vote you have stay consistent on."

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last month by a vote of 26 to 4 — more than enough votes to override a veto. House support for a veto override remains unknown, though. Some House members who voted against the bill have indicated they will vote in favor of overriding a veto. The final outcome may depend on how many lawmakers show up for the override vote.

Rep. Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., R-Bennington, voted against the measure and believes Douglas should veto the bill. Supporters will probably round up the votes needed to legalize same-sex marriage, though, he said.

"My guess is they'll probably, with the pressure they're putting on, ... override the veto," he said. "I have never seen brow-beating in my seven years the way that they've got it going right now."

Saxe said Smith has been working with Senate leaders and the Douglas administration to plot out how to proceed. The Senate is likely to agree Monday to amendments passed in the House. Douglas is then expected to veto the bill quickly, meaning it could be up for veto override votes as early as Tuesday.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at


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