Gay News Site Accuses MERI of Undermining Gay Marriage Battle
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The report, which was published yesterday in the national gay news site, the EDGE, cites numerous sources who say that, even though MERI has consistently and publicly advocated for gay marriage, behind the scenes some MERI officials struck a deal with current and former Democratic legislators to scuttle the legislation in favor of a civil unions compromise.
Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox, told GoLocalProv there was no merit to the report.
“The allegations discussed in this story by unnamed sources are totally inaccurate,” Berman told GoLocalProv. “There were never any deals made with anyone. To the contrary, MERI strongly opposed the decision made by Speaker Fox to support a civil unions’ bill.”
Fox has been a supporter of gay marriage—and says that remains his position—but he is now backing a civil unions compromise in the interim, saying gay marriage would not have passed the state Senate.
Former state Rep and Congressional candidate David Segal—who is named in the EDGE report as a key figure in backroom negotiations—also denied claims made by sources in the story. “It’s pure fantasy,” Segal said.
The EDGE report has, needless to say, stirred controversy in the gay community—in Rhode Island and beyond. The Massachusetts-based Rainbow Times ran an earlier version of the report this week but pulled it after gay marriage advocate in Massachusetts complained, according to Joe Siegel, the author of the report. Ray Sullivan, the campaign director for MERI, tells GoLocalProv it was taken down because "it was an act of fiction that could not be verified."
Siegel said he stands by the story. He said he ultimately received confirmation of his story from five separate unnamed sources—all with ties to MERI.
“There was absolutely backroom deals with Gordon Fox to pass the civil unions bill and delay the passage of the gay marriage bill until after the 2012 election,” Seigel told GoLocalProv.
Tensions in MERI?
He said there was a split between two factions in MERI—one that wanted to stick with gay marriage and one that was OK with a civil unions compromise. And Seigel, who lives in Rhode Island, said the account provided by his sources provides the best explanation for the surprising turn events of the past over the few months, in which the House Judiciary Committee vote was delayed and the head of MERI, Kathy Kushnir abruptly resigned, without disclosing the reason.
Soon after that, the spokesman for MERI, Bill Fischer, also left his role.
An editor at EDGE yesterday did not respond to a request for comment.
But Lauren Nocera, a founding member of the organization, told GoLocalProv that the EDGE report is flat-out wrong. Nocera said she had “never ever ever” heard anyone affiliated with MERI say anything in support of civil unions. She declined to elaborate and noted that she was not speaking as a representative of the organization.
UPDATE: MERI responds
MERI forwarded its original response to GoLocalProv today. Below is what chairman Martha Holt said about the claims made in the EDGE report:
"MERI does not respond to anonymous assertions or wildly speculative and incoherent innuendo.
We have reviewed the line of questioning you have pursued with MERI officials and others. The premise you are pursuing not only lacks credibility, but actually rises to the level of pure fantasy.
Throughout this legislative session, the unwavering commitment of MERI has always been the passage of marriage equality legislation, and that commitment is one the boards take very seriously. At various points in time, MERI heard feedback from members of the community expressing concerns that our existing efforts were not going to be enough to pass the bill. The boards met and made some decisions about staffing to ramp up our efforts, and added resources both internally and externally. We remain committed to those efforts and while some appear busy trying persue a personal vendetta, our focus is still trying to win the right to marry for same-sex couples in Rhode Island."
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