By Dave Gram Associated Press

Both legislative houses expected to pass measure, but no word yet on what Republican governor will do

MONTPELIER, Vermont — A state Senate committee unanimously approved a gay marriage bill on Friday, March 20, moving Vermont one step closer to becoming the third U.S. state that allows same-sex couples to legally wed.

The committee’s vote ended an intense week highlighted by a public hearing Wednesday night in which more than 500 people swarmed the Statehouse in Montpelier to speak for and against allowing same-sex marriages.

If approved, Vermont would join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only U.S. states that allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The measure would replace Vermont’s first-in-the-nation civil unions law with one that allows marriage of same-sex partners beginning Sept. 1. Civil unions, which confer some rights similar to marriage, would still be recognized but no longer granted after Sept. 1.

Both Houses, under Democratic control, are expected to pass the measure. The Senate is taking the lead and is expected to debate the bill next week.

Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, has said he opposes the bill, but has declined to say whether he will veto it if it reaches his desk.

The bill would exempt members of the clergy from performing same-sex marriages if their faiths forbid such unions, and would bar lawsuits prompted by such refusals.

Vermont in 2000 became the first state in the country to pass a civil unions law, which grants many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. But gay marriage advocates have argued since then that the law does not go far enough. California, New Jersey and New Hampshire also permit civil unions. проверка индексации сайта в поисковиках