Saturday, June 30, 2012

Rhode Island May Get 2013 Marriage Equality Vote

Openly gay (and Black) Speaker of the Rhode Island State House Gordon Fox who angered marriage equality activists last year by throwing his support behind civil unions legislation after concluding marriage equality could not pass his legislative body has announced that if he is Speaker next year he will push a marriage equality bill. The civil unions bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of the legislature last year and was signed reluctantly into law by Independent Governor Lincoln Chaffee. Since then, Chaffee has issued an executive order declaring that all state agencies should recognize same-sex marriages that have occurred in other jurisdictions where the practice is legal.

The Advocate reports on Speaker Fox's change in position on marriage equality legislation:

"I'm calling the vote," he said. "It's one of those issues that I need to come back, we need to address, and I intend if I'm elected speaker to address it early." 
Last year, Fox decided not to hold the vote on marriage equality legislation although advocates believed there were enough votes to pass the measure in the Democratic-controlled chamber. Instead, Rhode Island lawmakers passed a civil unions bill that has been criticized because of its broad religious exemptions.  
Fox, who is seeking reelection this November, also said in the interview, "It's one of the main reasons I'm coming back. There's unfinished business."

Just because the bill passes the State House does not mean it will become law because the Democrats head of the State Senate Teresa Paiva-Weed oppose marriage equality and supported the civil unions "compromise" last year. The Rhode Island civil unions law has been widely viewed as a public policy failure, since all of Rhode Island's neighboring states have marriage equality and there is no state law banning recognition of same-sex marriages. The broad religious exemption in the civil unions law means that Rhode Island couples in civil unions would actually have less rights and a greater likelihood of being discriminated against than couples who are married in a different state and reside in Rhode Island.

Anyway, after state marriage laws in Maryland, Washington, and Maine are resolved this November it looks like Rhode Island and Illinois will have opportunities to move toward marriage equality as well next year.

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