More than 300 people crammed into a ceremonial room next to Republican Gov. Jim Douglas' statehouse office this morning to loudly protest his plan to veto a same-sex marriage bill currently being considered in the House.
The marriage equality bill sailed through the Senate Monday on a 26-4 vote, a margin that surprised even backers of the measure.
Supporters timed their 9 a.m. rally to coincide with the governor's weekly, half-hour Legislative open door, where lawmakers have a chance to sit and chat with the governor. The event was canceled yesterday, but Douglas did meet with a small group of same-sex marriage supporters.
One of those people in the meeting was Beth Robinson, a founder of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force. She said the meeting went well, and supporters made it clear what they though of his veto announcement.
"We were not shy about telling him that we felt disrespected by his comments, and that he did not hear our side as well as he should," said Robinson. "I think it was clear that we haven't done a good enough job to explain to him why civil unions are not equal."
Robinson said Douglas reiterated the position he outlined Wednesday, when he announced he would veto the bill if and when it reaches his desk. In that announcement, Douglas said the bill was becoming a "distraction" for lawmakers whom he believes should be more focused on fixing Vermont's economy. He also said that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
Despite his stance, Robinson isn't giving up hope on changing his mind.
"I don't think we could have predicted that we would have come out of the Senate with a 26-4 vote and I think that proves that we shouldn't write people off," said Robinson, "and I don't want to write this governor off."
"History is passing him by on this issue, and we want to bring him along so that one day years down the road when he can look back and feel good about his decision," added Robinson.
No word yet from the governor or his staff on how he felt the meeting went. We'll add that when it arrives.
Robinson emerged from her meeting with a handful of other supporters just as hundreds of supporters dispersed to the Statehouse cafeteria to write letters to lawmakers, members of the House Judiciary Committee and the governor.
At the rally, supporters heard from several lawmakers including President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham), Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor), House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville), and Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington).
Shumlin was introduced as a "hero" on the issue, but Shumlin rejected the label, saying it as all of the people in the room who were the true heroes.
"The governor is on the wrong side of history," said Shumlin, "and we are more committed than ever to ensure this bill passes this year."
Campbell said the issue was about "humanity not homosexuality" and urged opponents to "open their hearts and their minds to see our effort as one of love."
He added that Monday was his proudest day as a legislator, a father, a husband and a Vermonter.
There will be enough votes to override Douglas' veto, Shumlin promised, adding, "We are not a distraction, we are Vermonters."
Speaker Smith asked supporters in the room to help him ensure there are enough votes (at least 100 out of 150) to pass the bill with a veto-proof majority. He debunked the governor's myth that somehow debating this issue is a "distraction."
During a recent meeting in Washington, DC, Smith said he met with colleagues from around New England and the country where same-sex marriage is being debated. "If this is such a distraction, why did New Hampshire just pass a bill," asked Smith. "If it's such a distraction why are my colleagues in Maine taking this up, and New York, and New Jersey?"
Rep. Zuckerman said there is easily 75 votes in favor of same-sex marriage in the House, up from only 22 nine years ago when they debated the passage of civil unions. He reminded people that the state has come a long way in its embrace of marriage equality.
Opponents of same-sex marriage, emboldened by Douglas' veto announcement this week, watched the rally.
Former Republican Rep. George Schiavone, one of the opponents, has been spending a lot of time in the Legislature on the issue. He's not officially lobbying for any group, but as a citizen in support of traditional marriage. When he was in the House, Schiavone was one of the leaders of an 80-member traditional marriage caucus. Members came from both the House and Senate.