Rhode Island’s House speaker says legislation extending marriage rights to gay couples is dead for the year.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay and is a leading supporter of the gay marriage bill, says that it’s clear the bill won’t overcome opposition in the Senate.
Fox, a Providence Democrat, says he’ll introduce civil union legislation giving same-sex couples the same state rights afforded to married couples.
“Although my personal position on marriage equality has not changed, I have always been a practical person and I believe my pragmatism is one of the reasons why I was elected Speaker of the House. Based on individual discussions with many of you, I understand how difficult the marriage equality issue has been.”
“Based on your input, along with the fact that it is now clear to me that there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate, I will recommend that the House not move forward with a vote on the marriage equality bill during this legislative session.”
“I will instead support full passage of a civil unions bill that grants important and long overdue legal rights to same-sex couples in Rhode Island.”
The announcement deals a major setback to advocates of gay marriage in the Ocean State. They had called civil unions a poor substitute for full marriage.
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s resistance was seen as a big hurdle to clear for the bill’s passage.
In a statement to reporters, Weed – a Democrat – says she supports civil union legislation and is confident it will pass.
A Rhode Island House committee will consider a bill that would legalize civil unions, instead of same-sex marriage. This is being presented as an alternative way to extend legal rights via civil unions between any two people over the age of 18 who cannot legally marry their partners.
The bill is being considered by the House Judiciary committee, which is the same committee that heard testimony regarding same-sex marriage.
Although both chambers of the state have considered the issue of marriage equality, neither one has voted on the issue. The Governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chaffee, has urged the lawmakers to pass same-sex marriage.
Capping off what has been a very busy and optimistic week, on Thursday night advocates for marriage equality in Rhode Island offered testimony before what is perhaps their most challenging audience: members of the Rhode Island Senate.
In a room that was packed to overflowing several hours early, members of a Rhode Island Senate committee heard testimony from marriage equality advocates and opponents late into Thursday night.
Much of the testimony was understandably emotional, perhaps none more so than Patricia Baker, 54, a corrections officer from Johnston, R.I., who in December was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Requiring an oxygen tank to breathe, Patricia shared her story with lawmakers as her partner, Deborah, wiped away tears. Shortly after being told that her cancer is incurable, Patricia was stunned to learn that Deborah will not be able to collect Patricia’s hard-earned Social Security benefits upon her death. This realization prompted Patricia to become an outspoken advocate for marriage equality during what are the perhaps the last few months of her life.
“I worked all my life for those benefits,” Baker told lawmakers. ”We own a house. We pay taxes. But they told me my Social Security benefits would go back into the system when I die. How is she [Deborah] going to keep the house?”
In the Rhode Island House, the legislation has the support of House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee is also supportive of the legislation, having called for marriage equality in Rhode Island during his inaugural address.
The greatest challenge is expected in the Senate. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed opposes the bill.