Analysis: Chafee expands same-sex marriage rights; love-in follows
It’s not often these days that Governor Lincoln Chafee gets to speak to a room packed with hundreds of ecstatic supporters. So Chafee got a trifecta today by signing an executive order directing the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of Rhode Island:
— The governor, a strong rhetorical supporter of same-sex marriage, put some meat on the bones of the message that he emphasized during his inaugural in January 2010; his executive order offers a tangible expansion of same-sex rights.
— Chafee got a chance to ignore his poor poll ratings, bathing instead in the adulation of a like-minded group of supporters in the state room;
— The governor ginned up his liberal supporters, calling same-sex marriage way overdue in Rhode Island. That issue isn’t expected to go anywhere this year in the General Assembly, an outlook acknowledged to reporters by the Senate’s only openly gay member, Donna Nesselbush. Yet Chafee’s cheery newser will stick in the minds of supporters, and it was enough to attract some of the governor’s erstwhile allies, like the NEA’s Robert Walsh.
Some might see more than a whiff of political opportunism to this.
Chafee emphasized tolerance and same-sex marriage during his inaugural address. He then said next to nothing about the issue publicly after the General Assembly last year passed a civil union law (panned by critics as a failure).
Asked about this today, Chafee pointed to a lack of legislative support in explaining why he didn’t speak up before today. So what changed?
The governor insists his executive order was in the works before President Obama last week came out in support of same-sex marriage. Emboldened, Chafee said the General Assembly should follow up on his order by passing a same-sex marriage bill tomorrow. The crowd at his news conference loved that, even if it has no realistic prospect of happening.
The movement behind the governor’s action matter little to the coalition of gays, lesbians, liberals, and moderates who support Chafee’s executive order.
For them, the Statehouse remains trapped in the past, a place where one of their most cherished beliefs, year after year, goes to die. For a little while at least, Chafee transformed the building into a place of celebration, and the governor basked in the reflected glow.