Two gay marriage bills – one backing,
the other prohibiting – in the Rhode Island Legislature are warming
up to do head-to-head battle next week.
Both bills will be heard in the same
state Senate Judiciary Committee starting on Thursday, February 26.
Rhode Island currently recognizes gay
marriage in a roundabout way. Gay couples wishing to marry need only
cross the border into neighboring Connecticut or Massachusetts.
Those wedding vows are valid in the Ocean State, but getting a
divorce in a state that does not officially offer gay marriage might
According to a recent poll commissioned
by Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) there is strong public
support for senate bill 147 introduced by Democratic Senators Rhoda
Perry of Providence, Susan Sosnowski of New Shoreham, Juan Pichardo
of Providence, Joshua Miller of Cranston, and Charles Levesque of
Bristol. A majority of Rhode Islanders (49%) support marriage
equality, while only 37% oppose it, the poll indicated. This is the
fourth year in a row that a majority of likely voters have approved
of gay marriage.
Rhode Island, the union's smallest
state, is located in the six-state New England region where the gay
marriage debate is at maximum amperage. Bills that would turn the
entire region into a gay marriage sanctuary have been introduced this
year in the four remaining states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine
and Rhode Island. New Hampshire and Vermont currently offer civil
unions for gay couples.
None of that is stopping gay marriage
foes in Rhode Island. Senator Leo Blais, a Republican from Coventry,
is introducing legislation that would limit marriage to heterosexual
couples by amending the state constitution and put an end to the
loophole that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry in border
Blais' anti-gay stance is well known
and he has introduced similar legislation in the past.
The National Organization for Marriage
Rhode Island (NOM) began running radio ads supporting Blais' effort
“These are the same legislators who
don't have time to balance our budget, to restrain out-of-control
spending, or come to some kind of agreement on immigration, but they
have time to mess with gay marriage?” a female announcer asks.
“I want a mommy and a daddy,” a
little boy pleads at the end of the spot.
The Rhode Island gay marriage debate
has been going on for twelve long years. In 1997, former state
Representative Michael Pisaturo, a Democrat from Cranston, introduced
a gay marriage bill.
Providence's openly gay mayor David N.
Cicilline says he still believes in gay marriage, but thinks it might
be time to look at civil unions or domestic partnerships.
“I think we are coming to the point
where we need to have a serious conversation as a community about
[whether] we try to move forward incrementally,” Cicilline told The
Democrats remain in control of both
houses of the Legislature, but Rhode Island Republican Governor
Donald Carcieri has said he opposes the legislation. This leaves gay
marriage backers thinking of 2010, at which time the term-limited
governor's 8-year term will be over.
Senate hearings for the gay marriage
battle royale begin on Thursday at 5PM at the Rhode Island state