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Rhode Island civil unions committee vote today

Timothy Kincaid

May 17th, 2011

No one is supporting civil unions in Rhode Island. But they probably will get them anyway.

The gay community and its supporters remain convinced that there are enough votes in the legislature to pass full marriage equality this year. And some are of the opinion that the passing of civil unions would set back or delay the eventual recognition of married gay couples. So gay organizations have been lobbying against a civil unions bill.

On the other side are those, like the National Organization for Marriage, who pretend to be concerned about “protecting marriage” but in reality are opposed to any recognition of same-sex couples whatsoever (and, indeed, any rights at all for gay people). The are lobbying against the civil unions bill, claiming that it would be a stepping stone towards marriage.

And it likely would.

But the legislature in Rhode Island is on the razor’s edge. Many want to support same-sex couples, but are hesitant about full marriage – perhaps out of religious fear, perhaps out of political calculation, or perhaps out of ol’ fashioned “but, but that’s how it’s always been” prejudice. And civil unions are the ideal compromise, a vote to show that they support gay people but also not likely to result in any voter backlash. (The days of a civil unions vote costing a politician votes is gone in the Northeast).

And as House speaker Gordon Fox, a gay man, has determined that getting a majority in the House is not possible (or would cost more political capital than he is willing to spend) and is supporting civil unions, politicians have a rock-solid basis for taking this route. And they are further justified by the fact that full equality would be subjected to a fierce opposition from Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Democrat that opposes marriage but supports civil unions.

And the first vote is today. The House Judiciary Committee will vote whether to send the civil unions bill to the full house and it is expected to do so.

It’s frustrating. Governor Lincoln Chafee is an outspoken advocate for marriage and polls show that a strong majority of Rhode Islanders support full equality. Democrats outnumber Republicans 65 to 10 in the House and 29 to 8 in the Senate. Waiting and compromise feels unnecessary and overly-cautious.

But that’s reality. Rather than marriage equality, Rhode Island will get civil unions this year.

And I’m (reluctantly) okay with that. As NOM notes, civil unions really are a stepping stone to marriage. And if DOMA fails in the courts (as it surely will), the federal recognition of same-sex marriages will compel civil union states to immediate revision so as to allow gay couples access to federal benefits.

Comments

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David
May 17th, 2011 | LINK

Many jurisdictions that have previously adopted civil unions have since legalized marriage equality, including Washington, DC, Vermont, Iceland, and The Netherlands.

John
May 17th, 2011 | LINK

It’s far more than we have in Virginia. If that’s all you can get in Rhode Island: TAKE IT. There’s always tomorrow to get full marriage equality and CIs are indeed a big step towards that.

pepa
May 17th, 2011 | LINK

“But that’s reality. Rather than marriage equality, Rhode Island will get civil unions this year.”

So in other words, if democrats oppose gay marriage it is “reality” and when republicans oppose it, it is “hatred.”

Amicus
May 19th, 2011 | LINK

One can suspect that what NOM is saying in public and what is being said in private meetings are different.

I can think of few other reasons that “civil union” has garnered so much support among Democrats, even with some who campaigned on marriage rights.

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