By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
For the fifteenth year in a row, same-sex marriage activists in the Ocean State are once again girding themselves for a battle to pass a marriage equality bill.
Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, reintroduced the bill on Thursday, in the hope that a hearing and a vote would occur very soon. State Senator Rhoda Perry (D-Providence) reintroduced the bill in the Senate. In the House, Handy said he had lined up at least 27 co-sponsors. There are 75 members of the House and 38 members of the Senate.
The bill reads: “Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements [in law] may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.” It also states: “No person shall marry” a long list of relatives, including a parent, grandparent, sibling or child of a sibling, and makes clear that no religious institution would be required to perform a civil marriage if it conflicted with its teachings.
Besides Handy, the other lead sponsors include Representatives Frank Ferri, (D-Warwick), Edith Ajello, (D-Providence), Deborah Ruggiero, (D-Jamestown), and the openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox, (D-Providence), who had said in the days leading up to the start of the 2011 General Assembly session that he hoped for a House vote on same-sex marriage early in the session, before the lawmakers get too involved debating the budget and other issues.
A same-sex marriage bill has never made it to a vote before, and its chances in the Senate remain a question mark, with Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed confirming again recently that she is opposed to the legislation.
But the political environment in the State House has changed over the last year, with Fox’s election as House Speaker and the inauguration on Tuesday of Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) who, unlike ex-Governor Don Carcieri, supports gay marriage.
In his inaugural speech, Chafee urged the General Assembly to pass a marriage equality bill, noting it was the right thing to do.
“When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality,” Chafee said.
“Governor Chafee has done an amazing job of speaking out for all Rhode Islanders,”
said Kathy Kushnir, the Executive Director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
However, not everyone is thrilled with Chafee’s views on the issue.
In a statement released shortly after Chafee’s election last November, Christopher Plante, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, chastised Chafee:
“The National Organization for Marriage – Rhode Island is disappointed that Governor-elect Chafee, elected with only 36% of the vote, and fewer popular votes than Cool Moose Party Candidate for Lt. Governor Bob Healey, refuses to listen to the voice of over 80% of Rhode Islanders who want the right to vote on marriage,” said Plante. “It is clear that Governor-elect Chafee intends to put fringe issues and radical politics over saving Rhode Islanders jobs and securing a prosperous future for our State. NOM – Rhode Island will work with Rhode Islanders to demand their right to vote on marriage, and demand that the Governor-elect sticks to the business of getting Rhode Island back on the right economic track. We are confident that the majority of Assembly-women and men know there are more important things to deal with and we will support their efforts to push for a referendum.”
Rep. Jon Brien, D-Woonsocket, has promised to reintroduce legislation which would put the matter in the hands of the voters.