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Gay Marriage Debate Takes Center Stage Today

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

 

Lawmakers will take another stab at bringing same-sex marriage to the Ocean State under legislation set to be discussed today by the House Judiciary committee.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy, would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, recognize civil unions as marriages and allow civil unions or marriages performed in other states to be recognized in the state.

The legislation is one of several same-sex marriage-related bills that will be discussed in committee this evening, including a bill that would repeal the controversial amendment attached to last year’s civil unions bill that allows for certain organizations to use religion as an excuse to refuse services to couples who have a civil union and another that would allow married gay couples to get a divorce in the state.

Handy’s proposal comes a year after the House, unable to muster enough votes to support a marriage equality bill in the Senate, settled for a law that made Rhode Island the fifth state to establish civil unions. Openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox was criticized for not bringing the gay marriage bill to a vote on the House floor and since then, very few couples have actually moved forward with obtaining a civil union in the state.

As of Feburary, only 46 couples had received a civil union in Rhode Island, according to the ACLU.

“The latest statistics make abundantly clear that Rhode Island’s law is a textbook example of how not to treat gay and lesbian partnerships,” ACLU executive director Steven Brown said at the time. “Not only have three states in the past year adopted much more meaningful and stronger civil union laws, but adoption this past year of new marriage laws in New York and Washington is placing Rhode Island even farther behind the times. Rhode Island must join its New England neighbors and provide true marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples before our law becomes even more of an embarrassment.”

Speaker Fox has contended that he supports same-sex marriage and has said he considers civil unions a step in the right direction. Last year, he noted that Vermont began with civil unions before eventually supporting gay marriage in 2009.

Unlike last year, same-sex marriage has not been a widely discussed topic in Rhode Island in 2012 as lawmakers have focused on the financial woes plaguing several cities and towns across the state. But marriage equality has continued to pick up momentum across the country, with Maryland and Washington passing laws this year. New Jersey’s legislature also supported a same-sex marriage bill, but it was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.

Governor Lincoln Chafee has already said he would sign a gay marriage bill into law.

Earlier this year, Marriage Equality Rhode Island executive director Ray Sullivan indicated his organization will continue to call for same-sex marriage until the General Assembly supports the legislation.

"We're absolutely coming back with a marriage bill this year," Sullivan said. "A lot of politicians would prefer that we just go away and not continue to push this issue, but we will not go away until we see the Governor sign this bill into law."

Dan McGowan can be reached at dmcgowan@golocalprov.com

 

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