After having remained mum throughout much of the debate on a gay marriage bill in Vermont, Gov. Jim Douglas said Wednesday he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
He told reporters that he throught the state's civil unions law provided sufficient rights to same-sex couples and reaffirmed his support for marriage between one man and one woman.
"For those reasons and because I believe that by removing any uncertainty about my position we can move more quickly beyond this debate, I am announcing that I intend to veto this legislation when it reaches my desk," Douglas said, according to The Associated Press.
At the same time, the Republican governor noted that “legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they did not have the votes to override a veto.”
His much-awaited comments come as a measure that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry beginning Sept. 1 passed through the Senate this week. The House is also expected to approve the bill in a vote next week.
Vermont was the first state to pass a civil unions law in 2000. It would become the third state after Massachusetts and Connecticut to allow same-sex marriage and the first state to permit it by a vote of the legislature if the bill becomes law.
Some supporters of gay marriage were surprised by the timing of Douglas' announcement.
House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morristown) told AP that announcing his decision on a veto "before the process has played out is essentially undermining our democratic system of government."
Douglas said it was not his normal policy to make such an announcement before it passed the legislature. But he explained his intent, saying "the speculation about my decision has added to the anxiety of the moment and further diverts attention from our most pressing issues, and I cannot allow that to happen,” as reported by The New York Times.
While the bill was advancing in the Senate, Douglas would not indicate whether he would veto the bill and simply stated that he believes in traditional marriage. Wednesday's announcement was the first time he spoke of his intent.
He hopes his announcement would speed the debate so lawmakers could turn their attention to more urgent issues such as the economy.
New Hampshire is debating a similar bill and its House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to allow same-sex marriage.