Rhode Island celebrates historic vote
But gay marriage bill faces uncertain future
Friday, January 25, 2013
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Legislation that would make Rhode Island the 10th state to allow gays and lesbians to marry faces an uncertain future despite being overwhelmingly approved by the state House.
It could be weeks or even months before the Senate takes up the bill that would make Rhode Island the last state in New England to recognize same-sex marriage, but supporters still celebrated the House vote Thursday night.
Ken Fish, a gay man from Warwick, showed up at the Statehouse hours before the vote to ensure he got a seat in the crowded viewing gallery.
“I wanted to be here to see it,” said Fish, 70, “Go back 10 years, even five years, and I wasn’t sure we’d ever get here. We’re not done yet, but this is a big one.”
While the House has a gay marriage champion in Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed opposes the legislation.
The 51-19 House vote came after an often emotional debate that touched on civil rights, religion and the nature of marriage.
“This has been a long journey,” Fox said after the vote. Fox supported same-sex legislation when it was first introduced in 1997. “Today is a great day. Today ... we stand for equality, we stand for justice.”
Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who supports gay marriage, urged quick action on the bill in the Senate. The governor, an independent, argues gay marriage is an issue of civil rights and the state’s quality of life, and said some people may choose other New England states over Rhode Island because of its stance on marriage.
“Now that the House has swiftly acted, I urge Senate leadership to ‘call the roll’ — for our economy, for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, and for history,” he said in a statement.
Advocacy groups on both sides of the issue will now turn their attention to the 38-member Senate, which has never voted on gay marriage legislation.
Some opponents have suggested placing gay marriage on the ballot as a referendum, but the idea is a nonstarter with Fox and Chafee.
A handful of lawmakers rose during Thursday’s debate to criticize gay marriage as a dangerous social experiment. Rep. Arthur Corvese, D-North Providence, warned lawmakers that same-sex marriage was an “irrevocable societal game-changer” that would redefine “the fundamental building block of our community” and could lead to the legalization of polygamy or plural marriages.
“Truth must not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness,” he said.
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