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Posts for June, 2011

Civil Unions approved by RI Senate Committee

Timothy Kincaid

June 29th, 2011

WPRI.com

Rhode Island moved one step closer to allowing same-sex civil unions on Wednesday afternoon after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to legalize them.

The committee voted 7-4 to approve the measure. The full Senate is expected to vote on the legislation Wednesday evening.

Rhode Island Senate Committee vote tomorrow

Timothy Kincaid

June 28th, 2011

The Rhode Island Senate is, at last, acting on the Civil Unions bill. (Boston Globe)

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Wednesday on the civil union bill. If the committee endorses the legislation, it will head to the full Senate for a final vote. Until Monday the bill appeared to be languishing on the Senate agenda as time ran out on the legislative session.

This is a crappy bill. Even if you set aside that this should be a marriage bill instead of a civil unions bill, it contains provisions that are considered disproportionately generous to religious objectors.

But that stuff is, for the most part, window dressing. It’s a battle over exactly which people are entitled to legally discriminate and – as in reality these provisions will impact very few real folk – they are distractions more than they are issues.

Do you really care if Pastor Steve down at the First Church of I’m Better Than You recognizes your civil union when pricing discounts for his church’s Anti-Halloween Festival? And if so, do you care so much that you’ll give up inheritance rights or other marital benefits?

I think that Rhode Island will, in short time, join the family of marriage equality states. But until that time, let’s pass this inferior civil unions bill and then move on to lobbying for full equality.

Rhode Island civil unions move along in the Senate

Timothy Kincaid

June 1st, 2011

Gay advocates are disappointed by the bill, anti-gay advocates oppose anything like it. In fact, there may only be about 100 people in all of Rhode Island who really want the civil unions bill and all of them may be in the legislature.

I once said, decades ago in college student government, that a perfect compromise is one in which neither side wins. And while that language is perhaps less than poetic, it has truth. While I don’t believe that this is an area in which we should settle for less than full equality, nor do I see any reason for incremental steps in Rhode Island, in term of compromise this is not a bad one. For an unnecessary compromise.

But civil unions are what Rhode Island is getting, and all it’s getting for now, so perhaps we should decide to be happy about it.

Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the bill.

Rhode Island civil unions pass the House

Timothy Kincaid

May 19th, 2011

The Rhode Island House has voted on civil unions and the bill passes 62 to 11.

Democrats voted 56 yes; 8 no; 1 not voting
Republicans voted 6 yes; 3 no; 1 not voting

The bill will pass now go to the Senate where its passage is certain and then it will be signed by the Governor. In the immortal words of Gavin Newsom, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not.

In our frustration with this second class solution in place of what was promised, let’s keep in mind that only three years ago we would have danced in the streets tonight in celebration of a civil unions victory. And come July 1, many gay couples in Rhode Island will have legal rights and security for their relationship that they do not have today.

What we need is a gay politician

A CommentaryA Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

May 18th, 2011

The disappointment in Rhode Island illustrates one of the problems that our community has in trying to achieve our goals of equality and fairness: legislators who are gay do not represent our community.

My congressional district is majority Hispanic. And they have elected a Hispanic congressman whom they expect to represent them and to look after their specific interests. My congressman came out of the Hispanic community, first established his name there, and gradually proved himself and gained the respect and support of his community. He does have other interests and agenda, but he knows his base and he knows that if he fails to represent his community’s interests then they’ll replace him with someone who will.

This is a typical pattern for minority communities and minority representation.

But it is not at all typical of politicians who are gay. Take, for example, Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (AP):

“I believe they have a higher expectation of me,” Fox said, because of his sexual orientation. “I think it’s also people that want this badly, that may not understand the process as much. … When they say ‘Oh we’ve now got a gay speaker of the House, now anything is possible.'”

Fox, 49, has served in the legislature for nearly 20 years and came out in 2004 while addressing a gay marriage rally. But he seldom talks publicly about his sexual orientation.

Fox did not come out of the community and does not represent the community. Fox came out of the closet.

To Gordon Fox, the gay community is “they”, a group of people with whom he decided to associate in his 40’s. Fox has made his political career despite his orientation, by keeping it unspoken, by seeing it as a liability.

I do believe Gordon Fox when he says that he is disappointed. I believe him when he says that he wants to achieve marriage equality. But for Rep. Fox, gay rights are not and never will be his highest priority. He will never be willing to give up other issues, pay the political capital, or make our community’s needs his only agenda.

Because Gordon Fox owes us nothing. We did not create him or empower him or elect him to represent us. His loyalty is to a party structure, to his district, and to his fellow legislators who gave him his position. He would like to help us, but not at the cost of those to whom he owes his success.

I appreciate those politicians who are come out; I really do. I recognize that they are more receptive to our issues, that they can experience some sense of kinship. But they are allies, not representatives of our community.

And what our community needs at this time is not more politicians who are gay. What we really need now is a gay politician.

Rhode Island Civil Unions Includes Strange Reciprocity Clause

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2011

Yesterday, we noted that civil unions were voted out of committee and scheduled for a vote on the House floor Thursday. LGBT advocates see civil unions as a setback after having been assured this year that the legislature in Providence would take up full marriage equality, and the state’s LGBT groups are backing away from supporting this new legislation.

And for good reason. The race to water down Rhode Island’s civil unions bill has begun. Mike Airhart points out that the latest draft civil-union legislation appears to withhold recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Oddly, it does recognize civil unions from other states. The previous draft recognized “A civil union, or a substantially similar legal relationship, legally entered into a another jurisdiction.” The current draft strikes the “substantially similar” clause and recognizes only civil unions.

Which puts LGBT new residents and visitors to Rhode Island in a peculiar position. Rhode Island will recognize a couple joined in a civil union from New Jersey, but married couples from just a few miles across the border in Connecticut and Massachusetts will be legal strangers to each other.

RI Committee advances civil unions

Timothy Kincaid

May 17th, 2011

The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee voted 9 to 3 to advance the civil unions bill to the floor of the full House. It is likely to be passed by a wide margin on Thursday.

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.

Rhode Island marriage vote may come within weeks

Timothy Kincaid

March 2nd, 2011

Providence Journal:

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, an openly gay Providence Democrat, says he’s “doing everything in his power” to move the question forward.

He acknowledged that a vote in the House Judiciary Committee could come as soon as March 10, the day that the Senate has scheduled a hearing on the Senate version of the legislation.

“That’s a potential,” Fox said. “The potential’s there but nothing has been set in stone at this point.”

Rhode Island: marriage bill to House Judiciary on Wednesday

Timothy Kincaid

January 30th, 2011

Boston Herald:

House lawmakers will take up a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the bill Wednesday.

NOM’s rather deceptive anti-Chafee ad

Timothy Kincaid

January 12th, 2011

The battle for marriage in Rhode Island has begun and the National Organization for Marriage has rolled out their first ad. Well, the rolled it out and then had to roll it back in because they misspelled Chafee’s name, but it’s back out there again with the correction.

The problem, of course, is that NOM is just about as honest as they ever are. Which is to say, not at all.

They tell us that Chafee only got 36% of the vote and imply that this means that only 36% of Rhode Islanders support marriage equality. But let’s look at the vote totals:

Lincoln D. CHAFEE (IND)…..123,571 36.1%
John F. ROBITAILLE (REP)..114,911 33.6%
Frank T. CAPRIO (DEM)……….78,896 23.0%
Kenneth J. BLOCK (MOD)…….22,146 6.5%
Three Others…………………………..2,799 0.8%

But what NOM doesn’t tell you is that Caprio and Block also ran on a pro-marriage-equality platform and one of t. In fact, two-thirds of Rhode Islanders voted for a candidate that pledged to support same-sex marriage.

They then do something that – if they had the ability to feel shame – would surely give them trouble sleeping. They compare Chafee’s percentage of an three-credible-person race to the results from an entirely different race. To understand how dishonest they are being, you have to have some background.

In the race for Lieutenant Governor (in which Chafee was not a candidate), the Republican nominee pulled out and threw her support to perennial candidate Robert J. Healey, JR., the founder of the Cool Moose Party (a riff on Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party). She said that Healey agreed with her views on smaller government; and indeed Healey ran on a platform of eliminating the office of Lieutenant Governor. While NOM pretends that the Cool Moose is oh-so-amusing, it was actually the not-a-Democrat choice.

In a two-credible-person race with the Democratic candidate Elizabeth Roberts (and one minor party candidate), Republican-endorsed Healey got 39.2% of the vote. And it is that 39% that NOM compares to Chafee’s 36%.

But NOM doesn’t tell you that Liz Roberts, who got 54.5% of the Lieutenant Governor’s vote has endorsed marriage equality and supports Chafee’s efforts.

And they don’t tell you that truthful people, honest people, don’t try to fool you by comparing apples to pineapples. And, if they do, you don’t get to distort the numbers by using big bold completely-bogus graphics.

Because not only can you not compare different races involving different numbers of contestants, but the number of voters who cast a ballot in the Governor’s race was not the same as the number that voted in the Lieutenant Governor’s race. 39% of the Governor’s race is not 39% of the Lieutenant Governor’s race.

In his two-person race, Healey the Cool Moose, got slightly more votes than did Chafee in his three-person race that night; 2,492 to be exact. But that isn’t 3% of the vote like NOM’s graphic pretends.

Now graphics representing the real numbers between the two would have not illustrated NOM’s point very well, so they just used whatever they wanted. In other words, NOM behaved in a completely dishonest manner.

Why are we not surprised?

So here is my challenge to Maggie Gallagher in 2011: Maggie, I’m not going to ask you to stop lying. I’m not going to request that you take up honesty as way of life. All I ask of you now is that you stop pretending that you are on the side of God and righteousness and morality; it offends my Christian faith.

Rhode Island marriage bill introduced

Timothy Kincaid

January 6th, 2011

A bill to enact marriage equality in the State of Rhode Island was introduced today in both the House and Senate. (Providence Journal)

In the House, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston introduced his annual bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The 29 lawmakers co-signing the bill include House Speaker Gordon D. Fox.

As she introduced similar legislation in the Senate, Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, said she hoped it would get a hearing and vote early in the legislative session.

A mirror of Handy’s bill, it legalizes “civil marriage” between people of the same gender to marry, while specifying that no religious institution would be required to marry same-sex couples if that would go against their teachings.

As the House speaker is gay and the governor called for marriage equality in his inaugural address, there is hope that this bill will have adequate support for success. The Senate Majority Leader is opposed to marriage equality, but she has stated that she will not stand in the bill’s way.

The Republican minority has pledged to support civil unions but any legislation allowing the term “marriage” to apply to same-sex unions should be put before the people as a referendum.

Chafee’s inaugural hope

Timothy Kincaid

January 4th, 2011

In his inauguration speech today, onetime Republican Senator and newly elected Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee included the following comments:

And I would hope that Rhode Island will catch up to her New England neighbors and pass a bill to establish marriage equality. I urge our general Assembly to quickly consider and adopt this legislation. When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality.

Couple recognition, state by state

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2010

Upon the governor’s signature, Illinois will become the second state that is currently offering civil unions to same-sex couples. The status of the various recognition mechanisms is as follows:

Marriage
on the same terms as heterosexual marriage – 5.1% of US Population:

Massachusetts
Connecticut
Iowa
Vermont
New Hampshire
District of Columbia

Civil Unions
– a rights except the name – 7.1% of US Population:

New Jersey
Illinois

Domestic Partnerships will all the rights except the name – 16.3% of US Population

California
Oregon
Washington
Nevada

Limited recognition of same-sex couples – 6.2% of US Population

Hawaii – Reciprocal Benefits
Colorado – Reciprocal Benefits
Wisconsin – Domestic Partnerships
Maine – Domestic Partnerships
Maryland – Domestic Partnerships

In addition, the states of Maryland and New York (6.4% of US Population) will give full recognition to same-sex marriages conducted where legal. Rhode Island may possibly do so also (it’s a bit uncertain) and offers unregistered Domestic Partnerships with a scant handful of rights.

Also, there are dozens of cities offer some form of recognition and protection for same-sex couples.

Marriage update – around the states

Timothy Kincaid

November 29th, 2010

The 2010 election has changed the dynamic in a few states and presents both opportunities and challenges for supporters of marriage equality. Here are how I see the current landscape:

Hawaii – Neil Abercrombie, the newly elected governor of Hawaii, is a strong advocate for civil unions. Earlier this year the legislature overwhelmingly approved a civil unions bill and such a bill is likely to be presented again.

Illinois – it is expected that the state legislature will vote this week on a civil unions bill during a lame-duck session. There is adequate support in the Senate, but the House vote is uncertain. Should it pass, Governor Pat Quinn, a strong supporter who was just reelected, will sign the bill. This bill seems to be taking on the impression of a Catholic v. Protestant fight, with NOM and the Catholic Bishop serving as the public face in opposition to civil unions, while a great many Protestants ministers have endorsed the bill.

Minnesota
– Mark Dayton holds a lead in the governor’s election over anti-gay Tom Emmer, but the election will not be determined until a recount is completed. Republicans took control of both houses of legislature, so no pro-equality bills are expected; but if Dayton is confirmed there also will be no anti-equality bills either.

The one concern might be that Republicans could try and put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that bans both marriage and civil unions. While that may seem like a great idea to anti-gay activists, Emmer ran a homophobic campaign designed to appeal to those who oppose marriage equality and it does not appear to have been successful. I think it likely that an anti-marriage amendment would pass, but anti-civil unions may be too much, and it is becoming increasingly more risky for anti-gays to make such assumptions. Additionally, attitudes can change dramatically in the next two years.

Meanwhile, three couples are suing the state claiming that laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitution. Today, a judge rejected the request of the Minnesota Family Counsel to intervene:

“The Council’s alleged injuries would occur solely due to its sincerely-held belief that principles rooted in its interpretations of religious texts are best for the well-being of children and families, and that marriage only between one man and one woman accords with these principles,” wrote Minnesota Fourth District Court Judge Mary S. DuFrense (PDF). “The Court certainly understands that the Council feels strongly about the social issue of same-sex marriage. Strong feelings, however, do not establish a legal interest in a lawsuit.”

Iowa – after three Supreme Court Justices were denied confirmation, anti-gay activists were celebrating. But as the Senate majority leader has committed to blocking any changes to the Iowa constitution, it is unlikely that marriage will be reversed.

New Hampshire – NOM is crowing that anti-marriage activists have taken over both houses. However, my analysis suggests that any reversal of marriage equality is unlikely. While Republicans took a veto-proof majority, a significant number have already voted against any repeal of the law.

Maine – Republican Paul LePage was elected governor, effectively eliminating any forward movement on marriage equality. However LePage supports the current domestic partnership laws so things will remain status quo for a while.

New York – this one is a big question mark. Incoming Governor Cuomo has promised to get marriage legalized. And after the last vote, state legislators have discovered that “things as they are” may well be the most dangerous position to hold; gay activists refused to play the “any Democrat is better than a Republican” game and set their sites on defeating anti-marriage votes.

Going by last year’s vote count, the current best case scenario is that we are three votes shy of what we need (there are still some undecided elections). However, this time our side is taking to the airwaves to drum up public support, and polls show that New Yorkers support marriage equality. What was a party-line vote last year may well be viewed this year in terms of tolerance and New York values and there may be an entirely different dynamic.

Rhode Island – Former-Republican Lincoln Chafee, who ran as an Independent, beat both the Democrat and the Republican candidates to take governor of the tiny state. And one of his first actions was to inform NOM that their opinion on marriage was not of any value to him. Rhode Islanders support marriage equality, and with Chafee’s backing there is a good chance that RI will be the next marriage state.

Maryland – another contender for next marriage state, Maryland did not suffer party reversal. A plurality of voter support marriage equality, and gay State Sen. Richard Madaleno is guardedly optimistic that marriage will be voted in, perhaps as early as January.

His optimism stems from a number of developments on Election Day 2010, some of which ran absolutely counter to national trends. In the Maryland Senate, Democrats actually expanded their majority to a 35-12 advantage over Republicans. And some Democrats who lost their seats did so in primary fights with more progressive challengers, many of whom vowed to be even stronger champions for marriage equality.

And, of course, all of the above could be impacted by Perry v. Schwarzenegger should the courts find that marriage laws which restrict gay people from participation are contrary to the Due Process or Equal Protections clauses of the 14th Amendement.

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