The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus is reporting that the Vermont House Judiciary Committee has approved a gay marriage bill on a vote of 8-2.

Full debate on the bill is expected to begin on Thursday.

Senators approved the bill with an overwhelming 26 to 4 vote on March 23 after listening to a week's worth of testimony on the issues. House leaders immediately began committee hearings on the bill the next day.

Leaders in both houses have enthusiastically endorsed the bill. Senate President Pro Temporate Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith announced 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.

But a promised veto by Governor Jim Douglas threatens to kill the legislation. Douglas announced his intentions last week at a media event.

“I believe our civil union law serves Vermont well,” the Republican told reporters in Montpelier. “I believe that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. ... I'm announcing that I intend to veto this legislation when it reaches my desk.”

Gay activists are now counting heads to see to if they have the two-thirds majority in the Legislature to override the governor.

An informal survey released yesterday by the office of state Senator William Doyle, a Republican from Washington, shows that a majority of Vermonters (55%) support gay marriage, 38% oppose it. About 12,000 people participated in the “Town Meeting Day” poll.