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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dissent on RI Retreat from Marriage Equality

Gordon Fox
Gordon Fox
By Kilian Melloy -

The Rhode Island State House of Representatives backed off from legislation that would have extended marriage equality to gay and lesbian families, with House Speaker Gordon Fox saying that the support wasn’t there to get the measure approved.

But at least two state representatives disagree, and say that the bill could have won passage from the house--a political victory even though the bill would almost certainly have met with defeat in the state senate, reported local newspaper the Providence Journal on April 28.

"It would have been a close vote, but I think it would have passed," State Rep. Peter J. Petrarca told the media. Petrarca is the chamber’s Senior Deputy Majority Leader.

The House Majority Whip, J. Patrick O’Neil, said that the debate around the bill would have been fervent, but he, too, thought that the votes might have been there to approve the marriage equality measure.

"It would have been an unbelievable floor battle, but we had the numbers to get it out of the House," O’Neil said.

Fox scuttled the bill, saying that he did not believe there was sufficient support for the measure even though Democrats heavily dominate the chamber.

"I can’t put people on the record just for the sake of putting people on the record, and then expect to work with them as we continue to build consensus on the very difficult issues going forward," Fox said on April 27.

The House Majority Leader did not cast the issue as clear-cut, but he indicated that he had doubts the measure would have garnered enough support to win approval.

"There are political realities," Nicholas Mattiello said on April 27. "We have representatives from different constituencies and some of those constituencies indicated they were not ready for this."

The House has now turned instead to a bill that would grant civil unions to same-sex families, with Petrarca saying that he will introduce a bill, possibly next week.

Fox announced that he was abandoning the measure on April 27. The openly gay Speaker sent a letter to his colleagues that day outlining his decision and the reasons behind it.

"Although my personal position on marriage equality has not changed, I have always been a practical person and I believe my pragmatism is one of the reasons why I was elected Speaker of the House," Fox’s letter said.

"Based on individual discussions with many of you, I understand how difficult the marriage equality issue has been. Based on your input, along with the fact that it is now clear to me that there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate, I will recommend that the House not move forward with a vote on the marriage equality bill during this legislative session.

"I will instead support full passage of a civil unions bill that grants important and long overdue legal rights to same-sex couples in Rhode Island," the letter added.

Proponents of marriage parity spoke against the decision.

"Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox has made a serious miscalculation," said Freedom to Marry’s Marc Solomon. "With support for the freedom to marry topping 60 percent-higher than in any other state in the country, and with a strongly supportive governor, the Rhode Island House should send a marriage bill--and nothing less--to the Senate now."

"Civil unions are unacceptable because they marginalize gay and lesbian couples in very significant ways," the chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island’s Board of Directors, Martha Holt, said in a statement.

"The General Assembly will essentially be legalizing a two-class system that subjects thousands of Rhode Island same-sex couples to discrimination. We cannot support legislation that establishes a second class of citizens in Rhode Island," Holt added.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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