The bill's lead sponsors — Rep. Mark Larson (D-Burlington) and Rep. David Zuckerman (P-Burlington) — said 59 legislators have signed onto the original legislation.
"A number of our colleagues, from across the spectrum, have said they do plan to support this bill when it comes up to a vote but couldn't sign on as a sponsor," Zuckerman told the packed room. Several hundred people flocked to Montpelier today as part of Visibility Day sponsored by Vermont Freedom to Marry, including a large contingent of folks under 30 as well as high school students.
A smaller group of about 100 same-sex marriage supporters met directly with Governor Jim Douglas this morning. He has not expressed support for the legislation.
"The meeting with the group was respectful, and the governor listened to the information and stories that they shared," said the governor's spokesman Stephen Wark.
One attendee said the governor was cordial, but spoke more of the financial hardships facing the state rather than the issue of same-sex marriage when he addressed the group.
"While he listened, he just listened," said Cheryl Lensky of White River Junction who was one of the 100 people who met with the governor. "We all know it's going to take an incredible amount of work still to get this passed."
A teenager, a long-term, committed couple and others addressed the governor, said Lensky.
Lawmakers have a lot on their plate this session due to the recession, but told supporters they can tackle budget issues and improve the civil rights for many Vermonters.
"We know we have important work to do for Vermont families during this session," said Larson, noting that the lawmakers standing with him were the few who could take a break from committee work. Larson himself is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "But part of that important work for Vermont families is this. We can do it all."
The bill would exempt religious institutions from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. This year's bill has 59 co-sponsors. Larson noted that that's a leap up from the bill introduced two years ago, which had only 35 co-sponsors.
"The question used to be why," said Larson. The special legislative commission chaired by former Rep. Tom Little (R-Shelburne), turned that question into "Why not?" added Larson.
"Now the question is when," said Larson, "and that's exciting."
Fears that the passage of civil unions would cause chaos went unfounded, Zuckerman noted. "But, even at that time those of us who supported marriage realized that civil unions were one step in a long journey."
Larson told supporters that the hard-won battles of the past can easily ebb without committed action.
"Progress can be taken away," Larson said, noting the recent Prop 8 vote in California banning same-sex marriage. "Not only does our state need us to lead, but our country needs us."
The bill will come up for discussion in the coming weeks, Larson said, but it's not yet clear if that work will begin in the House or the Senate. A Senate version of the House bill has not yet been introduced, but Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor) said that would happen soon.
Campbell also addressed supporters, saying it was going to take a lot of education to allay fears about the legislation.
"So, let's go get 'em," Campbell told the crowd.