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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 4, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 1
Rhode Island tries again - Marriage equality bill reintroduced in state assembly
Section One
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Rhode Island tries again - Marriage equality bill reintroduced in state assembly

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Marriage equality legislation was reintroduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly on January 3, the opening day of the Assembly's 2013 session.

Openly Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox has called for an early vote on the measure in his chamber, possibly by the end of this month.

Hearings in the House Judiciary Committee could begin quickly after Fox appoints lawmakers to the committee.

Fox dropped a similar bill in 2011 when it became clear that the state Senate would not pass it. Instead, legislators adopted a civil unions law that gives many, but not all, of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.

EQUALITY SUPPORTERS GAIN
The November election saw marriage equality supporters gain seats in both the House and Senate, and advocates hope to build on victories around the nation by passing the marriage bill. Sixteen new representatives and eight new senators entered the legislature this month, and the number of Republicans in the General Assembly declined to a mere 11 out of 113.

The measure's prime sponsor, Rep. Arthur Handy, said that the legislation will include language granting religious exemptions, if faith groups object to same-sex marriage as a matter of their religious beliefs.

Like Washington's Marriage Equality Act, the Rhode Island measure states that 'ordained clergy, ministers, or elders [...] shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage.'

Almost 64% of the state's population identifies as Roman Catholic.

SENATE STILL UNCERTAIN
The bill is expected to pass the House easily, but its future in the Senate is still in doubt.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Democrat who nevertheless opposes marriage equality, said she anticipates that the legislation will get a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee if the House passes it.

'I'm guardedly optimistic,' said Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the lead organization in the fight for equal marriage rights for Gay couples in the state. 'Based on the momentum both locally and nationally, we are strategically well-placed to move forward.'

Currently same-sex couples in Rhode Island may form civil unions. Last May, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican who was elected as an independent, signed an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

A 2006 Massachusetts Superior Court decision allows Rhode Island residents to marry in Massachusetts, reversing a 1913 law that barred Massachusetts from performing marriages that are not legal in the couple's home state. The law was originally intended to prevent inter-racial couples from the South from coming to Massachusetts to be married.

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