Same-sex marriage legislation has cleared its first hurdle in the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House Judiciary Committee approved marriage equality legislation proposed by Rep. Art Handy, D-Cranston on a unanimous vote. The historic move represents the first time any committee in either RI legislative chamber has approved a gay marriage measure.
Rhode Island lawmakers approved a civil union law two years ago but the Ocean State is the lone New England state without same-sex marriage. The Judiciary Committee approval without opposition means the measure is headed for passage when it advances to the House floor for a vote that is scheduled for Thursday.
Given that House approval is a virtual certainty, the focus will turn almost immediately to the Senate, where the legislation’s fate is problematic. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat, opposes same sex marriage but has said she will allow an up or down vote on the issue. What is unknown is the timing; House leaders want a fairly speedy vote so that same sex marriage doesn’t get lost in the inevitable sausage factory of state budgeting and others topics that have little to do with marriage equality but everything to do with the legislative process. Governor Lincoln Chafee, House liberals and Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, have made it known that they enacting gay marriage this year is a major priority. Now, Paiva Weed knows that too, which may give her and the Senate leadership some leverage on other issues with the House. Such traditional Democratic groups as organized labor and civil rights and liberties supporters have lined up behind gay marriage. The question now is whether a vigorous grass roots campaign by these folks can harvest the votes that will be needed in the Senate to move the issue to Chafee’s desk.