Paiva Weed Says the RI Senate Passed Same-Sex Marriage Due to Growing Public Support

Aug 1, 2013

Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

When the Rhode Island Senate made history by approving same-sex marriage legislation in April, more than a few close observers (including me) saw it as a matter -- in part -- of Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed preserving her leadership. The thinking was that if same-sex marriage was defeated again (in a battle that started in 1997), SSM supporters would aggressively target legislative opponents at the polls next year.

But during an interview on Thursday -- the first day on which same-sex couples can get married in Rhode Island, thanks to the bill signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee -- Paiva Weed insisted that political pragmatism wasn't part of the equation back in April.

"This was a matter of the General Assembly reflecting what was happening among their constituents and among the public," Paiva Weed said during a taping of RIPR's Political Roundtable.

She points to "an incredibly short period of time" between when then-President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and how President Obama, US Senator Jack Reed, and Congressman Jim Langevin came out in support of same-sex marriage last year.

"A lot of things happened to change the dynamics of the General Assembly." Paiva Weed says. "I do not think it was a matter of practical politics. I think it was a matter of the General Assembly reflecting the changes that were occurring both in Rhode Island and around the country on this issue."

Just two years ago, in 2011, House Speaker Gordon Fox pulled his support for a same-sex marriage bill because of what he described as insufficient support in the state Senate.

Yet after supporters of the marriage equality movement mounted one of the most sophisticated grassroots campaigns in recent Rhode Island history, the Senate backed same-sex marriage on a 26-12 vote.

Says Paiva Weed, "People didn't change their position because of this issue, to the best of my knowledge. They changed their position because of family members or friends that came to them and talked to them.

"The senators that I talked to, this wasn't, 'Oh, if i don't vote, I'm not going to get elected.' It was very much just the opposite. Most of the senators that I know took this home every night and really reflected and reached out and spoke to people ... This is one instance where I saw the generational divide, and I can't tell you how many of the senators that I spoke to, who others may have prejudged what their vote was going to be, it probably reflected the 20-something that lived in their house who is the one who spoke to them." 

Well, like they say, failure is an orphan and success has many fathers (and mothers).

The Political Roundtable interview with Paiva Weed can be heard Friday morning at 5:40 and 7:40. She also joins us for Bonus Q+A, airing at 6:40 and 8:40 am Friday.

Among other highlights:

-- Paiva Weed predicts the Senate's Moving the Needle legislative package will help to improve Rhode Island's economy over time.

-- She says she'll seek another term as Senate president.

-- Paiva Weed says she personally supports convening a constitutional convention.