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Rob Horowitz: Momentum Builds for Marriage Equality

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


As a House Judiciary hearing today kicks-off the official proceedings on marriage equality legislation, momentum is building for passage. The hearing itself--this early in the legislative session-- is further confirmation that the bill is on a fast-track in the House, where a comfortable majority of members have already signed-on as co-sponsors. Speaker Fox has said there will be a floor vote by the end of January and all indications are that is exactly what is going to happen (disclosure: my wife, Sue Pegden, is Counsel to the Speaker).

The likely quick passage in the House, and the prominent media attention it will receive, will boost the active support needed for a more hotly contested battle in the State Senate. Senate President Paiva Weed, an opponent of the legislation, has already promised a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the members are closely divided on the issue. But it will be hard for her to duck a floor vote without incurring the total political blame for killing the bill. After all, Paiva Weed made all the Judiciary Committee appointments and according to Senate Rules, she and the rest of the Senate Leadership have the option to vote to move the bill out of the Judiciary Committee, if they so choose. The path of political least resistance for the Senate President is to ensure a floor vote—even if she indicates her continued opposition to the legislation by voting no.

This year’s marriage equality fight in Rhode Island takes place amidst rapidly growing public support for ensuring that gay and lesbian Americans have the same right to marry as the rest of us. There is now, according to polls, a majority nationally and in Rhode Island for marriage equality. Just a little more than 8 years ago in 2004, when President Bush used his strong opposition to marriage equality as an effective wedge issue, only 31% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while 60% were opposed. Republican Pollster Jan van Lohuizen explains this pronounced shift in public opinion: “As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace.”

Since the end of last year’s General Assembly session, where marriage equality failed to get a vote in either the House or the Senate and the pale and insufficient substitute of civil unions was adopted instead, President Obama has endorsed marriage equality and Maine, Maryland and Washington have approved it. In terms of the local fight, the 2012 election resulted in the addition of pro-marriage equality State Senators, including one of my clients, Steve Archambault. Today, there are 11 co-sponsors of marriage equality legislation in the State Senate including Republican Dawson Hodgson (R-35).

The concerted and orchestrated efforts of marriage equality opponents to promote a referendum---one that they are not at all certain they can win--as an alternative to adopting the legislation is a recognition that momentum is now on the side of marriage equality advocates. There is still a tough fight ahead. But this should be the year when Rhode Island joins the rest of its New England neighbors in granting all of its residents equal protection under the law by realizing the adoption of same sex marriage.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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