Gay marriage opponents swarmed the Vermont capitol on Monday as a Senate committee hearing studying the issue got underway, reports The Associated Press.

A crowd of about 200 protesters wearing stickers that read “Marriage: A mother and father for every child” spilled out of the standing room only meeting where members of the Judiciary Committee convened their first day of a week's worth of testimony. A public hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 6PM at the Montpelier Statehouse is certain to draw big crowds and lots of fire.

Proponents of the bill were also visible, wearing stickers that read “From legal rights to equal rights.”

The bill – introduced by Representatives Mark Larson (Democrat) and David Zuckerman (Progressive) – grants gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in the first state to offer civil unions for gay couples in 2000. It is backed by legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith.

On Monday, gay marriage opponents took their message to the airways, releasing an “urgent marriage alert” radio ad in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, three of the four New England states currently considering gay marriage. The effort was organized by the National Organization for Marriage.

“Tell the politicians to stop messing with marriage,” a woman says in the spot. “These are the same politicians that who don't have time to fix our state's economic mess, balance our budget, or restrain out of control spending, but they have time to mess with gay marriage?”

“I want a mommy and a daddy,” a child urges.

Leaders of Vermont's Roman Catholic Church also oppose the law. Bishop Salvatore Matano said he would appear at Wednesday's public hearing to testify against the bill. He said children have a “natural right” to a mother and father.

Speaking to local media, Matano said: “We are defending what has been the normal pattern of human existence over the ages. And we simply do not believe we have the right to redefine or change what is in the natural order.”

The Catholic Church remains steadfastly opposed to the recognition of gay unions around the world. In Spain, where gay marriage became legal in 2005, Pope Benedict has directed followers to vote out the Socialist Party that passed the law. And last month, the Vatican issued a statement that said they could not support a United Nations resolution that called on all nations to decriminalize being gay because it might encourage the spread of gay marriage.

But about 200 members of Vermont's clergy – representing 9 religious denominations – signed on to a statement supporting the gay marriage bill.

“Civil unions are a good thing, but are still not equality,” Rev. Linda Maloney, an Episcopal minister from Enosburgh Falls, said.

If Vermont approves gay marriage legislatively, it would be the first state to do so. Gay marriage came about in Connecticut, Massachusetts and briefly in California as a result of state Supreme Court rulings.