Rhode Island Representative Peter
Petrarca introduced a civil unions bill on Tuesday angering gay
marriage supporters, the AP repported.
Petrarca's proposed legislation would
give gay and lesbian couples the same rights as marriage in the
state. However, such unions receive no federal recognition.
While the government's Defense of
Marriage Act (DOMA) bans federal agencies from recognizing the
marriages of gay and lesbian couples, federal judges in at least two
challenges now on appeal have declared portions of the law
unconstitutional. If DOMA were overturned – or, less likely,
repealed by Congress – then the relationships of gay couples in
civil unions would not be recognized by the federal government.
“Some sort of progress is better than
nothing,” Petrarca, who supports gay marriage, said.
Gay marriage supporters gathered at the
Statehouse to protest the move.
The more than 200 protesters, led by
Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), vented their angered at House
Speaker Gordon Fox, who last week announced the gay marriage proposal
has “no realistic chance” of being approved in the General
Assembly this session. Fox, who is gay and backs marriage equality,
said he would shift away from marriage and toward civil unions for
Angry protesters insisted separate is
never equal and vowed to force a vote on marriage.
Democratic Representative Arthur Handy,
the sponsor of the gay marriage bill, said he would introduce an
amendment to Petrarca's civil union bill, thus forcing a House vote
this year on the issue. Many supporters believe Handy's bill would
have cleared the House. Less likely is the Senate, where Senate
President Teresa Paiva Weed has said she supports civil unions but
not marriage for gay couples.
Fox responded that such a move would
jeopardize the civil unions bill.
“The result … would be to
kill the civil unions bill, thus denying long-overdue rights to
same-sex couples in Rhode Island,” Fox said in a statement. “I
don't know why Representative Handy would attempt to deny these
important rights, and I hope he gives great thought to its negative
impact on same-sex couples before offering such an amendment.”
The Rhode Island chapter of the
National Organization for Marriage said it opposes both bills.
“It's same-sex marriage by another
name,” said Chris Plante, the group's director. “It is a
backdoor way into legalizing gay marriage. I believe that we will be
able to peel off significant amounts of votes once [lawmakers]
shift comes just weeks after a gay marriage bill died in the Maryland