Rhode Island Legislators Plan Introduction of Marriage Equality Bill Today

It's been an exciting and optimistic week for marriage equality advocates, particularly those in Rhode Island.

On Tuesday, recently elected Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee called for marriage equality during his inaugural address.  On the heels of the governor, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston), along with 27 co-sponsors, says he'll introduce a marriage equality bill in the House today.  Handy hopes for a hearing and vote on the measure early during the 2011 General Assembly session.

The political landscape has shifted dramatically since the marriage equality bill was last introduced during the 2010 General Assembly.  Whereas Gov. Chafee (Independent) wants to see marriage equality realized in Rhode Island, his predecessor, Donald Carcieri (Republican), was not at all supportive of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox is another one of the bill's five lead sponsors.  He, too, is hoping the General Assembly will pass marriage equality legislation sooner rather than later.  Both Handy and Fox see lawmakers getting wrapped up in budget issues later in the session.

Chances for the bill's passage in the Senate are more uncertain.  Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed confirmed again recently that she remains opposed.

Rep. Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) also opposes the bill and says  he plans to reintroduce legislation that would take the decision of marriage equality out of the hands of legislators and place it into the hands of voters via a referendum.  Rep. Handy realizes that supportive legislators may be torn by this argument.  Speaker Fox opposes a referendum because he believes that marriage for gay and lesbian couples is an issue that "should be dealt with in the bodies that were elected to do the work of the people."

Handy says the bill he will introduce is identical to the one he introduced last year.  It declares marriage to be a "legal institution recognized by the state in order to promote stable relationships and to protect individuals who are in those relationships."

In November 2010, GLAAD was on the ground in Rhode Island, providing media training to the staff and volunteers of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), as well as committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of and be responsible for the people they love most.

Currently five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa and Vermont) and Washington, D.C., have legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

GLAAD looks forward to the day when marriage equality becomes a reality in Rhode Island.  In the meantime, we will continue doing our part to help shape that reality.