ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Vermont is moving toward adopting full marriage for same-sex partners. This nearly a decade after it became the first state to allow gay couples to enter into civil unions. There's plenty of opposition, but as Ross Sneyd of Vermont Public Radio reports, the debate is much less heated this time around.
ROSS SNEYD: Nine years ago the debate was intense in the state house, on the campaign trail and over coffee in general stores. Some described the division as akin to a civil war in a state known for its civility. A grassroots campaign popped up, symbolized by black and white placards that read, Take Back Vermont. Some of those signs still hang on the occasional barn, and a few have gone back up again this year. But in the past nine years, 8,900 couples have gotten civil unions, and now the debate feels different.
(Soundbite of running water)
SNEYD: On a cold, early spring day, ice still washes up against the boathouse on Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront, where Ryon Price is out for a run. He's a pastor at United Church in nearby Colchester. He describes himself as an evangelical Christian and a supporter of same-sex marriage, a position that puts him at odds with some of his parishioners.
Pastor RYON PRICE (United Church, Colchester, Vermont): God is in the midst of all of us, and we are all wrestling and working out our faith with fear and trembling.
SNEYD: Chapin Spencer can't wait until the bill passes. His fiancee won't agree to a wedding until their gay and lesbian friends can do that same thing.
Mr. CHAPIN SPENCER: It would actually be helpful for me if this passes this year because then I can get married this fall.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SNEYD: Burlington is a college town, long known for its progressive politics.
(Soundbite of traffic)
Thirty miles to the north, St. Albans is more conservative. In 2000, it was one of the towns where opposition to civil unions was strongest. Today, there's skepticism about same-sex marriage. Mayor Marty Manahan says he reflects the views of many people in his part of the state.
Mayor MARTY MANAHAN (St. Albans, Vermont): I think there's - they should be able to have legislation put in place that protects everybody's benefits and everything, but I think marriage is a sacrament and very close and particular definition to a lot of people.
SNEYD: Dan Meunier doesn't think his neighbors would approve of same-sex marriage any more than he does.
Mr. DAN MEUNIER: I don't think they're for it, that's for sure. You know, it's just - it's quite a drastic change. So I don't know.
SNEYD: But even here, where a hearing on civil unions nine years ago was anything but civil, there are signs of change. Arlene Reynolds uses a walker as she makes her way down Main Street in a biting wind. She says she's changed her mind.
Ms. ARLENE REYNOLDS: I think they should be allowed to do what they want to do. Yeah, I think - I don't think it's fair. I think they should, you know, live as they want to.
SNEYD: No one's sure what will happen at the statehouse. The Senate has already endorsed the marriage bill by a vote of 26 to four. The Vermont House is expected to approve the bill soon. Republican Governor Jim Douglas says he'll veto it. That would leave the outcome up to a tight override vote in the House. For NPR News, I'm Ross Sneyd in Burlington, Vermont.