The Associated Press is reporting that a gay marriage bill has won unanimous approval by a Vermont House and Senate committee studying the issue.

After listening to a week's worth of testimony, the committee approved 5-0 to advance the bill.

Leaders in both houses have enthusiastically endorsed the bill. Senate President Pro Temporate Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith announced two weeks ago they would make the legislation a priority in the Legislature.

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.

Vermont Governor James Douglas opposes gay marriage, saying civil unions suffice, but has not indicated he would veto the bill. Many believe he would let the law take effect without his signature.

The bill now heads to the Senate where a full vote is expected next week. If passed, Vermont would become the first state to legislatively extend marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Gay marriage became available in Massachusetts, Connecticut and briefly in California as a result of state Supreme Court decisions.