Rhode Island News: Same-sex marriage bill to be introduced Thursday

10 Jan 2011

PROVIDENCE -- The drive to legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island will begin anew on Thursday, with the re-introduction in the House of a bill to allow for same-sex nuptials.

In a brief interview on Wednesday, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, said he had already lined up 27 co-sponsors and was hoping for more, but would introduce the bill no matter what the number on Thursday in hopes of spurring an early-session hearing and vote on the measure.

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 D. 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 wrapped up in the budget and other issues.

"I would like it done earlier than later, only because later you get into budget issues and your focus sort of changes," Fox said.

A same-sex marriage bill has never made it that far before, and its chances in the Senate remain uncertain, with Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed confirming again recently that she remains personally opposed.

But the political dynamic in the State House has changed over the last year, with Fox's election as House Speaker and the inauguration on Tuesday of Governor Chafee who, unlike his predecessor, supports gay marriage.

Handy said the bill he will introduce is identical to one he introduced last year, declaring marriage to be a "legal institution recognized by the state in order to promote stable relationships and to protect individuals who are in those relationships."

It says: "Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements [in law] may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender." It also says: "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.

Same-gender marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, but is facing a repeal effort in New Hampshire. In Maine, voters overturned the state Legislature's approval of same-sex nuptials.

Within days, Rep. Jon Brien, D-Woonsocket, has promised to reintroduce legislation that would take the decision -- which he termed highly personal -- out of the hands of the state's 113 legislators by requiring a public referendum.

Handy acknowledges that some legislators who support same-sex marriage may be torn by the let-the-voters-decide argument.

Fox opposes a referendum, calling same-sex marriage a civil-rights issue.

"Civil-rights issues should be dealt with in the bodies that were elected to do the work of the people. This is where those decisions should be made," he said recently.

"It's a very different vote count when you have a governor that is going to veto it and when you have a governor that won't veto it because you don't have to get the super majorities" for a veto over-ride.

Via The Providence Journal