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Rhode Island Tip Sheet: The parallelism of civil unions

May 20, 2011

STATE OF THE STATE: Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed backs the civil union bill passed Thursday by the House, according to spokesman Greg Pare, although a Senate vote on the measure hasn’t yet been scheduled . . . . Asked last night when same-sex marriage may come to Rhode Island, Speaker Gordon Fox told me, “I can’t prognosticate that. I don’t have the crystal ball. But I think it’s a strong statement, it’s a strong step forward. And it’s one of those — I think Deb Ruggiero talked about the arc of justice being long in any fight [or] movement — this is definitely progress.”

PARALLELISM OF CIVIL UNIONS: 1) activist groups supporting and opposing same-sex marriage opposed the civil union bill before it was passed before the House yesterday evening; 2) legislative opponents of civil unions call the bill a Trojan horse; legislative supporters of same-sex marriage hope that it is; 3) Speaker Fox rules amendments by Art Handy (to further same-sex marriage) and Arthur Corvese (to define traditional marriage) out of order; 4) legislative supporters of civil unions say the meaure has public support; opponents say the opposite is true.

VOX POP: David Scharfenberg points to the first Gallup poll showing a national majority in support of same-sex marriage.

MORE GORDON FOX ON THE CIVIL UNION VOTE: “It’s a bittersweet moment, because we would like full marriage equality — that’s what I have fought for, that’s what I would like. But I’m a pragmatist, and again, 62 people stood up and voted [for civil unions]  that same-sex couples should be afforded those rights. It is a proud moment in Rhode Island’s history.”

FERRI’S MOMENT: Representative Frank Ferri, the openly gay Warwick Democrat, got perhaps the most rapt attention with his emotional plea for support during yesterday’s two-hour House debate on civil unions. Excerpts: “I’ve had a long journey getting here. It’s been 13 years that I’ve been testifying on the marriage bill. Seven years ago, I started Marriage Equality with a great group of people . . . . I believe we are all equal and deserve respect, but today I’m being asked to choose between equality and rights. It’s not an easy choice. I have to look at my husband, whom I’ve shared a life with for 30 years, and legally married five years ago next month, and I have to say, I’m sorry, honey, I’m gonna vote for something that ignores our legal marriage and makes us second-class citizens . . . . I want you [fellow legislators] to be clear that creating civil unions is not equality . . . . Speaker, I know this wasn’t an easy decision for you, and I respect you for what you did. I know it was pragmatic and realistic, and I support you on it. Please support this bill.”

THE OTHER SIDE: Christopher Plante  of the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island calls the civil union bill a slippery slope that could lead a court to instill same-sex marriage. Via news release, he adds: “Of particular concern was Speaker Fox’s refusal to allow a vote on Representative Corvese’s amendment to add a definition of marriage to this bill.  It most certainly is germane to the legislation.  The text of the bill is taken wholesale from the marriage and divorce statutes.  The sponsors spoke continuously of providing the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples.  Well, if we are going to extend the rights of marriage then we should define what we mean by marriage.  NOM – Rhode Island expects to work with Senate Leadership to get a definition and defense of marriage included in their version of the bill.”

OTHER REACTION: MassEquality executive director Kara Suffredini: “MassEquality applauds the Rhode Island House of Representatives for recognizing that lesbian and gay couples and families in Rhode Islands need legal protection. But there’s a word for how we protect families in this country, and that word is marriage. We are deeply disappointed that Rhode Island’s representatives chose to pursue civil unions in place of marriage. Marriage—nothing more, and nothing less—is what all of Rhode Island’s families deserve.”

MERI REACTION: From Martha Holt, board chair of Marriage Equality RI: “We are grateful to Rep. Handy and the other members of the House who fought to pass marriage equality today. We thank them for standing with us and will not forget the courage they displayed today. While civil unions represent some rights and benefits, they fail to provide the kind of protection and recognition that only marriage can afford. Separate laws are never equal laws, as our courts have upheld.  We will continue to fight to pass marriage equality legislation and will not stop until gay and lesbian couples are no longer legally discriminated against or treated as second-class citizens.”

FLACK ATTACK: Perhaps the most interesting take-away in Tim White’s latest $100,000 club report is how state quasi-public agencies, which have their own staff PR people, pay a lot of money to outside PR agencies.

CD1: On WPRI/WNAC-TV’s Newsmakers this week, Tim, Ted Nesi, Scott MacKay, Joe Fleming and myself parse the latest Channel 12 poll and a few other political topics.

BASEBALL: Welcome back to Fenway Park, the Chicago Cubs, cosmic cousins of the Red Sox. This time around, it won’t be fixed.

Subscribe/unsubscribe/tip Tip Sheet: idonnis (at) wrni (dot) org

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