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.
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.
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.
State Sen. Rhoda Perry isn’t pleased that her colleague Michael McCaffrey is suggesting she’s the reason his Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t taken a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage.
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. Michael McCaffrey is putting up a lot of signs around Warwick as he makes an energetic bid for reelection. But will he debate his primary opponent?
McCaffrey, the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a potential successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, hasn’t accepted multiple invitations from WPRI 12 to debate his fellow Democrat Laura Pisaturo during a taping of Newsmakers next Friday morning.
Pisaturo has agreed to the debate and will be a guest on the program regardless of whether her opponent shows up. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, was first elected in 1994 and is seeking his 10th consecutive term in the Senate.
He did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Two others incumbents who are part of the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership agreed to debate their opponents on Newsmakers in response to invitations this month: Rep. Peter Petrarca, the House’s senior deputy majority leader, and McCaffrey’s colleague Sen. Dan DaPonte, the Senate Finance Committee chairman.
McCaffrey and Pisaturo are competing in the Sept. 11 primary for the Democratic nomination in Senate District 29. There is no Republican candidate for the seat, which means either McCaffrey or Pisaturo will be the district’s next senator.
The Rhode Island Senate can pass a public records bill with lightning speed when its leaders want to.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s upper chamber is a major roadblock to passage of Rep. Michael Marcello’s widely supported public records changes. The Senate Judiciary Committee has finally scheduled a vote for Monday on a weaker alternative by Sen. James Sheehan, more than three months after he introduced it and just days before lawmakers adjourn.
There was no such delay when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, decided he wanted to make his own public records changes – he pushed a bill on the topic through the Senate Labor Committee last Thursday, just two days after he introduced it. The vote was 5-0, with five members absent; the full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday.
“In my four sessions at the General Assembly I’ve never seen a public records bill in the Labor Committee,” John Marion, who heads Common Cause Rhode Island, told WPRI.com on Sunday. Despite Common Cause’s longstanding advocacy on public records, Marion didn’t hear about the bill until a few days ago.
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.”