MERI Executive Director resigns

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By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
April 27, 2011
Kathy Kushnir, the Executive Director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) has resigned.

The board accepted her resignation on Monday after nearly three years in the position. Her resignation is effective May 11.

“I leave Marriage Equality Rhode Island with a great sense of pride and satisfaction knowing we have moved this critical debate forward. I have every confidence marriage equality will be achieved this year for all Rhode Islanders,” said Kushnir in a statement. “The organization is stronger than it has ever been and I am able to step down now, without regret, knowing the capabilities and organizational strength that is now in place. I want to thank the board for the incredible opportunity to lead this organization.”

MERI has been leading the fight to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Ocean State for the past 8 years. Despite support from Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) and House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), there has not yet been a vote on either of the marriage bills introduced into the House and Senate.
Hearings were held in both chambers in February and March.

A same-sex marriage bill has been introduced by members of the General Assembly every year since 1997. However, the bills have never made it out of their respective committees for a vote.
However, same-sex marriage supporters remain optimistic about the prospects for a vote during the current legislative session, which concludes in June.

“Nothing will stop an eventual victory on this issue,” said Kate Monteiro, a veteran LGBT rights advocate.

Monteiro believes Kushnir’s departure from MERI will have no effect on the push for marriage rights.

“Marriage equality isn’t dead,” Monteiro noted. “It isn’t even wounded.  I doubt the actual organizing work at MERI will even skip a beat today.”

“This movement does not depend on one person, tireless and talented though she may be,” said Myra Shays, a member of Providence’s PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter. “We should praise (Kathy Kushnir) and thank her for the courage and leadership she has shown, and redouble our efforts.”

A number of organizations have endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples in the past few weeks, including the state chapter of the AFL-CIO, the Rhode Island Bar Association, as well as numerous city and town committee chairmen.
MERI has 5000 activists and supporters manning phone banks and lobbying legislators. In addition, the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry have also loaned their resources.