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Is Gay Marriage on the Table in Rhode Island?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

 

A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island will "absolutely" be introduced during this legislative session, Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) executive director Ray Sullivan confirmed Tuesday.

The bill will be part of the organization's legislative agenda, which Sullivan said will be released later this week. Advocates in the Ocean State are hoping to capitalize off of momentum in other states, including Washington, which became the seventh state to legalize gay marriage earlier this week. Legislatures in New Jersey and Maryland have also taken steps in favor of the measure.

"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."

Civil Unions

State Representative Art Handy and State Senator Rhoda Perry are expected to sponsor the legislation in each chamber. Governor Lincoln Chafee has said he would sign a marriage equality bill into law.

Many in the gay community believed the legislation was going to pass last year during openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox's first year as Speaker. But after concerns over whether the bill had the necessary votes in either chamber, the legislation was tabled and the General Assembly instead opted for a civil unions law.

The legislation granted same-sex couples most of the rights afforded to married couples in Rhode Island without the historical and religious meaning associated with the word “marriage.” Rhode Island became the fifth state to have civil unions, joining New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii. At the time Fox called it a step in the right direction.

“I remain committed to the passage of marriage equality, but democracy is about compromise,” he said. “I am convinced that Rhode Island will someday have full marriage equality and I intend to play a role in that effort.”

Attempt to Appeal Corvese Amendment.

The law has been criticized from all angles, with marriage equality supporters saying it doesn't go far enough and opponents suggesting that no one actually was in favor of the law.

Sullivan said part of MERI's legislative agenda will include the Equal Religious Protection Act (sponsored by Rep. Frank Ferri & Sen. Josh Miller) that would repeal what has become known as the "Corvese amendment" in the civil unions bill. The amendment, which Sullivan says includes the most discriminatory language ever put into any equality bill in the country, allows any religiously connected entity to ignore the legal import of a civil union.

"It's no secret we're going to look to repeal the discriminatory portions of the civil unions bill," Sullivan said. "The Corvese amendment is a license to discriminate."

MERI: Public is on Our Side

Asked whether he thinks local lawmakers would support MERI's legislative agenda, Sullivan, a former State Rep. himself, said he believes members of the General Assembly should look to the courage of leaders in other states that showing support for gay marriage and step up to the plate.

He noted that that the public has already shown its support.

"The majority of Rhode islanders are on our side on this issue," Sullivan said.


 

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