Highlights of today's final vote and signing of Rhode Island's marriage equality bill from the Providence Journal and WPRI, AFTER THE JUMP...
Gordon Fox Hub
Mere weeks after Gov. Lincoln Chafee ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state, House Speaker and longtime gay ally Gordon Fox says he plans to schedule another vote on equality next year.
…Fox told WPRI-TV's "Newsmakers" Friday he will schedule a vote early in the General Assembly session. He called the legalization of same-sex marriage "unfinished business" and "one of the main reasons" he's running again.
Fierce opposition from some last year prompted the Legislature to abandon a gay marriage bill and approve civil unions instead. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed was among the opponents.
Marriage Equality Rhode Island says it "appreciates" Fox's commitment to holding a vote and that all eyes have turned to the Senate. The group says it's working with others to elect lawmakers supportive of gay marriage.
A Public Policy Polling survey conducted last year that 50% of Rhode Island citizens want to see marriage equality pass, while only 41% oppose it.
Activists angry at House Speaker Gordon Fox's decision to drop marriage equality legislation and the shift the focus to civil unions rallied outside the Rhode Island state house yesterday, the Providence Journal reports:
Gay marriages supporters were nonetheless displeased with what they saw as a sign of betrayal and political cowardice.
“This legislation codifies the idea that lesbian and gay families can be treated differently,” said Martha Holt, chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), which organized the event.
“Separate is never equal, we are not second class citizens and we demand to be treated equally,” Holt declared. She concluded by making a call for continued political activism, asserting that “MERI isn’t going anywhere,” and that they plan to organize “in every district and county of this state,” until the next election cycle comes around.
In a letter to colleagues, Fox said the decision was one of pragmatism.
Despite the protests, a civil unions bill was introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Peter J. Petrarca:
Calling his bill an important first step, the Lincoln Democrat said the legislation — while falling short of legalized same-sex marriage — would give same-sex couples the same rights that married couples now have under Rhode Island law.
“Some sort of progress is better than nothing,” he said just minutes before the House session got under way.
Watch a reports from ABC6, AFTER THE JUMP...
Earlier this week I reported that lawmakers had given up on trying to pass a marriage equality bill for the session in Rhode Island and had shifted their focus to civil unions. That legislation will reportedly be introduced on Tuesday:
Groups that fought for gay marriage say they'll oppose any proposal that falls short of full marriage. Gay marriage opponents also oppose civil unions.
Rep. Frank Ferri, a Warwick Democrat who is gay, tells The Associated Press that he wants to see the bill's details before making up his mind.
Disagreement remains among lawmakers about whether or not marriage equality actually could have passed the House. While openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (pictured) caved, other members of his leadership team feel the bill could have passed, the Providence Journal reports:
House Majority Whip J. Patrick O’Neill, D-Pawtucket, believed the votes were there to pass Rep. Arthur Handy’s gay-marriage bill, albeit by a slim margin. “It would have been an unbelievable floor battle, but we had the numbers to get it out of the House,” he said.
State Rep. Peter J. Petrarca, a Lincoln Democrat who serves as Fox’s senior deputy majority leader, concurred. “It would have been a close vote, but I think it would have passed,” he said.
Rep. Frank G. Ferri, a Warwick Democrat and deputy majority leader, said he believed that there were about “40 to 42” votes in the House in support of gay marriage, a count that he says comes from Marriage Equality Rhode Island, one of the local advocacy groups leading the drive for same-sex marriage.
All of those lawmakers, however, did not feel the bill would make it through the state Senate.
Talk is stirring in Rhode Island that a vote on marriage equality may be approaching quickly:
He acknowledged that a vote in the House Judiciary Committee could come as soon as March 10, the day that the Senate has scheduled a hearing on the Senate version of the legislation. "That's a potential," Fox said. "The potential's there but nothing has been set in stone at this point."
Fox said he's talking with House members to see where concerns lie. House leaders have also looked at what's been introduced in Maryland and in other states. But he said that no amendments are in play at this point, and that the proposal as currently worded has "strong support" in the House.
Fox said he's aware that time is of the essence, due to other items on the agenda:
"I'd like to get something done sooner with marriage equality so that we can move on to those discussions," Fox said. "How soon? That's going to depend on how soon I can get done laying my groundwork."
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has made it repeatedly clear that he supports such a measure and would gladly sign it if it got to his desk.
Gordon Fox today became Rhode Island's first openly gay House Speaker, the AP reports:
"The Democrat from Providence received votes Thursday from 51 of the 75 lawmakers in the House. Democrats nominated him during an earlier closed-door caucus. The 48-year-old lawyer previously served as House majority leader. He replaces former House Speaker William Murphy, who will continue to represent his district until the legislative session ends early next year. Fox announced he was gay in 2004 during a Statehouse rally in support of gay marriage."