By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Same-sex marriage will be legal in Rhode Island starting Aug. 1 after the R.I. House of Representatives gave final approval to the legislation Thursday, thrilling supporters who’ve been pushing the issue at the State House for 16 years.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee is using some of the choicest real estate in all of American journalism – the New York Times op-ed page – to make his case about why he’ll be making the right move Thursday when he signs into law a bill allowing same-sex marriage (presuming it passes the House).
Chafee’s 1,200-word opinion piece – “Why I Am Signing Marriage Equality Into Law” – lays out clearly and succinctly the case the governor has been making since his inaugural speech in 2011: that allowing gays and lesbians to wed in Rhode Island will fit with the state’s history of tolerance and benefit its economy to boot. He also goes out of his way to praise the Rhode Island Senate’s GOP caucus for backing the bill, and makes a point of highlighting some of the brighter spots in the state’s economy.
This isn’t Chafee’s first foray onto the Times’ opinion page. In February 2010, just after he launched his successful campaign for governor, he published a piece called “Goodbye to All That” that suggested, following Evan Bayh’s disillusioned departure from the U.S. Senate, the need for a third political party.
One bit of political trivia that’s still unresolved: when exactly did Chafee actually start expressing support for same-sex marriage? Chafee notes in his op-ed that he opposed President Bush’s proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004, but at that point he only supported civil unions; during Chafee’s 2006 re-election campaign, however, he was on record supporting full marriage rights for gays and lesbians.
Whatever the case, Chafee supported same-sex nuptials long before most Democrats, let alone Republicans.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced plans to sign a bill legalizing same-sex marriage during a ceremony on Thursday evening, immediately after the final version legislation is expected to win passage in the House of Representatives.
• Related: How the Rhode Island shifted on same-sex marriage (April 24)
By Ted Nesi
ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) – Former Boston Celtics player Jason Collins became the first openly gay active athlete in a major U.S. sport on Monday, and he’s crediting Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III with helping him make the announcement.
• Related: Enthusiastic Joe Kennedy III says it’s ‘surreal’ to join Congress (Jan. 7)
After reading this story by Dan McGowan and yours truly about why the Rhode Island Senate shifted on same-sex marriage, Bloomberg View’s Josh Barro sees a lesson for proponents in other states (my emphasis):
This is similar to what happened in New York in 2011: passing gay marriage depended not only on four Republican state senators voting yes but also on Dean Skelos, the Senate’s Republican presiding officer, agreeing to let gay marriage come to the floor even though he opposed it. Rhode Island and New York are both examples of the “no fingerprints” strategy for gay-marriage opponents: letting it become law while taking as little credit or blame as possible.
If the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, this will be a key political theme over the next 20 years: gay marriage opponents strategically acquiescing so they can stop fighting a fight they know is doomed and electorally costly. Rhode Island’s topsy-turvy politics mean that the officials making that calculation today are Democrats (all five Republicans in Rhode Island’s state Senate support marriage equality), but in most states, it will be Republicans who search for ways to lose gracefully on the issue.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Less than an hour after the Rhode Island Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday said he met with advocates to begin discussing plans to sign the bill into law “as quickly as possible.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Senate voted 26-12 on Wednesday afternoon to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a historic victory for its supporters that almost certainly means gay nuptials will be allowed in the Ocean State starting Aug. 1.
• Related: Big campaign has RI gay-marriage backers near victory (April 24)
By Dan McGowan & Ted Nesi
When the Rhode Island Senate meets Wednesday to vote on legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, it will be taking up an issue that died in the House just two years ago and was still considered a long shot as recently as last winter.
But a savvy political campaign that first threatened and then encouraged state lawmakers – combined with a rapid shift in public opinion – now has Rhode Island poised to become the final state in New England to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island moved another step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage on Tuesday after a key legislative panel approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to wed in the state, setting up another crucial vote for Wednesday.
Same-sex marriage supporters are predicting a heavy turnout Wednesday night at a fundraiser on Providence’s wealthy East Side that will benefit the advocacy group Rhode Islanders United for Marriage.
More than 90 people have RSVP’d to say they’re planning to attend the event at the Firglade Avenue home of Maryellen Butke, the prominent education activist and 2012 state Senate candidate, and her partner, Jo O’Connell. Suggested contributions start at $50.
The host committee for the event includes Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, Treasurer Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Pawtucket Sen. Donna Nesselbush, a lead sponsor of the marriage bill. Also on the list are real-estate developer Buff Chace and Xay Khamsyvoravong, who was former Treasurer Frank Caprio’s campaign manager.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More than half of Rhode Island voters support allowing same-sex marriage in the state, while most opponents of the idea say it conflicts with their religious beliefs, according to a new poll released Thursday by Brown University.
The poll also found Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s approval rating is a dismal 26%. ”Lincoln Chafee still has not been able to move his numbers after over two years as governor,” WPRI 12 political analyst Joe Fleming said.
By Dan McGowan
Rhode Island had a higher percentage of adults who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in 2012 than all but two states that have legalized same-sex marriage, according to a Gallup survey released Friday.
At 4.5%, the state ranked No. 5 overall, behind Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Hawaii, which led the way at 5.1%. Ten percent of Washington D.C.’s population identified as LGBT.
The national average was 3.5%.
Gallup’s findings came after 206,186 interviews conducted between June and December. The organization is calling its survey the “largest study of the distribution of the LGBT population in the U.S. on record.”
The survey came in the same week that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) released a poll that said 74% of Rhode Island voters believe they should be able to vote on the definition of marriage rather than allowing the General Assembly to decision.
Last month, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island. The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the chamber’s leaders have said they are in no rush to discuss the legislation.
Last September, a WPRI 12 poll found that 56.3% of registered voters support legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, with 36% opposed and 7.8% unsure.
The Public Policy Polling survey [pdf] shows Raimondo would win anywhere from 32% to 46% of the vote depending on which hypothetical opponents she faces. She is the only candidate to crack 40% support in any of 10 ballot tests conducted by PPP.
If Raimondo is out of the picture, however, there’s no clear frontrunner: the leading candidates in non-Raimondo scenarios shift between Republican Brendan Doherty, Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Angel Taveras depending on the match-up. Moderate Party founder Ken Block starts out with double-digit support in most scenarios, suggesting his presence could have a major impact on the outcome.
Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee faces an unsurprisingly uphill battle to win a second term, with more than half of voters saying they don’t want him to run again. His strongest shot at re-election comes if he runs as a Democrat: running under the party banner, Chafee starts out trailing Republicans Doherty and Fung by just four points. Among voters who do want Chafee to run again, 20% say he should run as an independent and 18% say he should run as a Democrat.
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Democrats who lead Rhode Island’s Senate say they’re in no rush to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage despite Thursday’s overwhelming vote in favor by the House of Representatives.
• Related: Poll: Only Republicans have majority against gay marriage in RI (Jan. 24)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island took another step toward becoming the final state in New England to allow same-sex couples to marry on Thursday when the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage bill.
Rhode Island’s House of Representatives will gather at 4 p.m. for a historic vote to legalize same-sex marriage. It will almost certainly mark the first time either chamber of the General Assembly backs the idea. (WPRI will stream the debate live online.)
While there’s no doubt the issue remains controversial, polling suggests House lawmakers will be acting in line with public opinion if it approves gay marriage today.
Last September, a WPRI 12 poll showed same-sex marriage enjoys significant support among Rhode Islanders, with 56% of voters in favor of legalization, 36% opposed and 8% unsure.
Support for same-sex marriage is fairly broad among different types of voters, with one exception: Republicans. Rhode Island GOP voters are the only group that has a majority against legalization, with 59% opposed (and 40% strongly opposed). Voters ages 60 and older are closely split, with 49% of seniors in favor and 43% opposed.
Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin is making headlines this week for a letter to lawmakers urging them to resist pressure to legalize same-sex marriage during this year’s legislative session. The Church played an active role in defeating the proposal in 2011.
The marriage letter fits into a familiar narrative about Tobin, who always attracts attention when he discusses hot-button social issues. But not all of the bishop’s policy positions are in line with the Republican right. For an example, read his new Rhode Island Catholic column addressing gun control:
The right to own guns is not an absolute right. As a personal right it always has to be balanced with the legitimate rights of other people, and with protecting the common good. That’s a principle that applies to all individual freedoms. …
The National Rifle Association (the NRA) has again emerged as a key player in the current debate. Despite its influence, however, the NRA is not a fourth branch of government. If the Association wants to be a respected and credible part of our community, it has to be part of the solution, not the source of the problem. It has to promote the common good; not protect its own interests. The NRA, too, is subject to the law of God.
One of the signature songs of the iconic folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, was “Blowin’ in the Wind,” written by Bob Dylan. There they ask nine questions, including: “How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned?”
In a similar way we can ask ourselves, “How many children must die, how many families must suffer, how many communities must be forever scarred,” until we as a society agree to reasonable limits on firearms? If the answer’s not clear now, it never will be. It’s time for our nation, state and local governments to enact legislation that will severely limit the number and nature of firearms available to the general public.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s carefully orchestrated announcement Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will call a vote on gay marriage if a bill passes the House shakes up the political dynamic on the issue. But while proponents cheered the Senate president – who remains personally opposed to same-sex nuptials – there’s still no guarantee they’ll win their fight in 2013.
First, a marriage bill has to pass the House – which probably won’t be a problem, considering supporters have long been confident they have enough votes in the lower chamber and House Speaker Gordon Fox has already said he’ll call a vote by the end of next month.
Then the debate would move to the Senate, specifically the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first big question is, who’ll be appointed to that committee when the new Senate convenes in January? The panel’s membership could decide whether the marriage bill has enough votes to move to the floor.
Rhode Island’s legal regime for same-sex couples could change significantly in 2013. The question is, will the changes come from the General Assembly or the U.S. Supreme Court – or both?
The Assembly’s expected actions are well-known. House Speaker Gordon Fox has pledged a vote on same-sex marriage by the end of January, and opponents are already gearing up to fight it, with the Senate likely to be a battleground. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the New York-based advocacy group Freedom to Marry, says Rhode Island is already on its radar screen for next year:
[P]roponents of same-sex marriage, who have already worked so hard and made such progress in altering public opinion and securing marriage rights in many states and countries, must redouble their efforts. …
So what can be done in the next six months? First, rack up more state-level victories. …
Along with local families and advocates, Freedom to Marry is already looking to 2013 legislative victories within reach in states like Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
And then there’s the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nine justices made headlines last Friday when they agreed to hear two cases on same-sex marriage, raising hopes on both sides of the debate for an emphatic victory at the federal level. But The New York Times’ Adam Liptak notes that while the court surprised some observers by taking up the cases, “it has left itself plenty of off-ramps” to avoid a sweeping ruling – one of which would have a big impact in Rhode Island.
New York University law professor Kenji Yoshino calls that option “the eight-state solution,” with Rhode Island being one of the eight. Here’s how Yoshino explains what such a judicial ruling could look like:
Yet another breakpoint on the spectrum would focus on the lack of justification for giving same-sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage but withholding the word “marriage” from them. … What is important is not that California went all the way to same-sex marriage and then retreated, but rather that California went all the way to “everything but marriage.” Once it did so, it reached the point of no return. Currently, seven states besides California would be affected by such a ruling: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
Such a ruling could have perverse effects, given that later legislatures that might otherwise have been willing to compromise at “everything but marriage” unions might switch to endorsing only weaker recognition or no recognition at all. Increasingly, however, the popularity of even “everything but marriage” arrangements appears to be waning. Indeed, reports from New Jersey and Rhode Island suggest that same-sex couples are unwilling to avail themselves of civil unions because they are holding out for full equality.
Update: The Atlantic’s Molly Ball just published an exhaustive look at how same-sex marriage advocates prevailed in the November elections, which features Freedom to Marry prominently.
• Related: New WPRI 12 Poll: 56% of RI voters favor same-sex marriage (Oct. 1)
Fox, a Providence Democrat who’s in the toughest re-election fight of his 20-year career, added specificity to the pledge he made in an interview on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers earlier this year, when he announced he would call a vote in the House on gay marriage during the 2013 session if he got re-elected.
Fox, who is openly gay, told a small crowd of supporters at the restaurant Blaze on Providence’s East Side that he would call a vote “during the third or fourth week of January.” The speaker opted not to call a vote on gay marriage last year because of opposition from leading Senate Democrats including Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport.
Fox’s opponent, independent Mark Binder, has criticized the speaker for failing to call a vote, saying he “put marriage equality on the back burner because he didn’t think it would pass a Senate vote.” Binder says on his website he’s pleased Fox is now calling for a vote, but “I only wish that he’d done it years ago.”
More evidence Rhode Island could see a real showdown over gay marriage next year, as House Speaker Gordon Fox prepares to call a vote and Senate leaders remain opposed. From The New York Times:
In the roiling state-by-state war over same-sex marriage, the campaign against marriage rights has been masterminded largely by one man.
Frank Schubert, a former corporate public relations executive, ran the $40 million, come-from-behind push for Proposition 8 in California in 2008. He went on to mount successful campaigns to defeat same-sex marriage in Maine and North Carolina. Now, with marriage initiatives on the ballot in Maryland, Minnesota, Washington State and Maine, Mr. Schubert is the chief strategist in all four at once. …
Mr. Schubert already has his eye on the next year or two, when he sees marriage battles brewing in Rhode Island, New Jersey and several other states. And he is talking with potential clients about campaigns to protect religious liberty and fight abortion.
• Related: New WPRI 12 Poll: 56% of RI voters favor same-sex marriage (Oct. 1)
Gay-marriage supporters tried and failed to make a breakthrough in the Rhode Island Senate during Tuesday’s primaries, winning just two of seven targeted races and coming up short in their marquee effort to knock off Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffrey.
Both McCaffrey, whose committee has never taken a vote on gay marriage, and another endangered incumbent – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dan DaPonte – survived spirited challenges. Their victories will bolster the leadership team of Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who succeeded Joe Montalbano in 2008.
That puts Paiva Weed on a collision course with her fellow Democrat House Speaker Gordon Fox, who told WPRI 12 earlier this year he will call a vote on gay marriage in early 2013. Fox spokesman Larry Berman said that hasn’t changed.
The political action committee trying to elect state lawmakers who support same-sex marriage is going all-out to defeat Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffrey. But Paul Jabour, the committee’s vice chairman, isn’t getting the same treatment.
Supporters of Maura Kelly, who’s challenging the Providence state senator in the District 5 Democratic primary, were dismayed Wednesday when the PAC – Fight Back RI – didn’t include her on its list of endorsements despite the newcomer’s strong support of same-sex marriage.
On Tuesday night, Jabour gave a somewhat confusing three-and-a-half-minute answer when asked about his position on the issue at a candidates forum hosted by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.
“Do I support gay marriage? The answer is no,” Jabour said. “I support civil unions. I’m not going to lie to my community.”
During a debate Friday on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers, McCaffrey was asked why his committee has never voted on the issue. He replied: “The same-sex marriage bill has been heard by the Senate Judiciary numerous times, and Senator Perry – I assume – has done a headcount of the committee, has done a headcount of the Senate, and said: ‘I may not have the votes for this.’”
Moderator Tim White then asked McCaffrey, who’s chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee since 2003: “Why not bring it up for an up-or-down vote and find out?” He replied: “That, I have no problem – my position is I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Within two hours, Perry issued a statement through the pro-legalization group Marriage Equality Rhode Island criticizing McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat (and potential successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed) who differs on the issue from his primary challenger Laura Pisaturo.
State Sen. Daniel DaPonte and his Democratic primary opponent, state Rep. Roberto DaSilva, say they both support legalizing same-sex marriage – with caveats – as long as religious objections are respected.
Asked Friday during a debate on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers whether same-sex marriage should be legalized in Rhode Island, DaPonte said: “A form of it, yes.” Asked the same question, DaSilva said: “I would say yes with the proper protections.” They are running in Senate District 14, which DaPonte currently represents.
In a follow-up interview, DaPonte cited religious protections as his major concern. “I think the legal protections that marriage provides to heterosexual couples – whether you call it civil unions or marriage, whether or not its called marriage or something else – legally, I think there should absolutely be equity,” he said.
“I cosponsored legislation … that would make all marriages civil and then if you have a religious component, so be it,” said DaPonte, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. “They do that in European countries …. We should consider that.”
By Ted Nesi
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House Speaker Gordon Fox will call a vote next year on legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, he announced Friday during a taping of WPRI 12′s Newsmakers.
It’s been clear for a long time that a majority of Rhode Island House Democrats (and likely a Republican or two) support legalizing same-sex marriage, and Governor Chafee has always said he’d sign such a bill into law.
That’s kept all eyes on the Rhode Island Senate – particularly Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, a devout Catholic who opposes gay marriage, and the conservative Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, a Catholic who belongs to his city’s Knights of Columbus.
There are signs the Senate’s opposition may be softening. In February, Paiva Weed and McCaffrey met with lobbyists from Marriage Equality Rhode Island at the lawmakers’ request; last year they never got a meeting at all. And at least two Senate Republicans, Dawson Hodgson of North Kingstown and Christopher Ottiano of Portsmouth, say they’d make a vote to approve gay marriage bipartisan.
Ray Sullivan, the former lawmaker who heads MERI, said there’s “no doubt” gay marriage would pass the House, which is led by openly gay Speaker Gordon Fox. “We have more support now in the General Assembly than we’ve ever had before,” Sullivan told WPRI.com. “That’s not spin. That’s the reality. People are recognizing that it’s time to take action on this issue.”