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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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Saw on the morning news the protest at the State House by a large group of Latino folks who are against gay marriage and for traditional family and religious values.

How do you square this grassroots protest with your opinion on rapidly growing public support?

Comment #1 by Art West on 2013 01 16

First, marriage equality advocates assert the electorate should not be allowed to vote on minority civil rights. Nonsense.

RI’s constitution is the foundation for civil rights in this state. Any amendment to it requires electorate approval. If constitutional amendments require electorate approval, so, too, should such a momentous decision as to redefine a centuries-old definition of marriage.

Furthermore, as far as marriage equality advocates are concerned, it’s okay for judges and legislators to vote on this significant, societal-altering issue, but not the people? Are judges and legislators imbued with far more intelligence and wisdom than the common man or woman? How incredibly elitist.

If the electorate is prevented from deciding this issue, then marriage equality will be viewed by many as illegitimate, which will have profound effects regarding its enforcement. As an example, unelected U.S. Supreme Court judges decided the abortion issue in Roe v. Wade. Look at the divisiveness that has resulted ever since.

Trust the people to decide this issue. If the electorate approves gay marriage, it will enjoy far greater acceptability. If the governor and legislature decides this issue, divisiveness will result.

Second, marriage equality advocates assert homosexual marriage ought to be equal to heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the law. Well not everything is equal in the eyes of the law, nor should it be. For example, inequality exists when:

1) A 40-year old man is prohibited from marrying an 8-year old girl;
2) A brother is prohibited from marrying his sister;
3) A man is prohibited from marrying three women at the same time;
4) A man is prohibited from being married when he is still legally married to another woman;
5) A 10-year old boy is prohibited from marrying a 10-year old girl.

As a society we codify in law inequality all of the time. All inequality does not rise to constitutional dimensions. Some inequality makes perfect sense. There are very sound reasons why marital arrangements that are contrary to our centuries-old Judea-Christian definition of marriage ought to be considered unequal in the eyes of the law. Nature’s law, which transcends any written law, provides many such reasons. Religion provides still more reasons.

An institution that has lasted for centuries should not be altered by our governor and legislators. Allow the people to decide this issue. After all, if the governor and legislature cannot amend our state constitution, then they should not be allowed to amend in such a profound way our definition of marriage.

Comment #2 by Christopher Lee on 2013 01 16

Chris: A very clever argument, but it may not achieve the outcome you are looking for. I agree that an electorate vote will give finality to the issue, (until or if the courts decide to take up the equal protection/14th amendment issue). Unfortunately, (or fortunately) the legislature decided to statutorily define who could and could not marry. Since it has been statutorily defined, the legislature can redefine it via a bill. For example, there is an exception in RI that one may marry their first cousin if it is in alignment with jewish law. This was the very reason why our Supreme Court in RI gave that lame opinion on same-sex divorce. It wasn't in the statute.

Comment #3 by Petr Petrovich on 2013 01 16

Also Chris; your brother can't marry sister analogy was interesting. In each example you gave, there is a public policy reason for the prohibition (by public policy I mean based in science or logic). The prohibition against brother/sister marriage is the fear of producing offspring that will/may have physical and/or cognitive limitations. Since same-sex couples cannot biologically reproduce (as of the time of this comment), I wonder if this will open the door for brother/sister marriage. If so, there is a possibility that I could marry my brother.

Comment #4 by Petr Petrovich on 2013 01 16

Petr, yes this is interesting what the language "marriage equality" might enable. If "equality" is the measure, then all the marriage scenarios that one can imagine have to be allowed -- otherwise there is just marriage for gays, with others excluded and designated unequal by default.

Comment #5 by Art West on 2013 01 16

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