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Little Support for Civil Union Compromise in Rhode Island

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A hearing in Rhode Island's House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday clearly revealed that advocates on both sides of the state's marriage equality debate are united in that few support civil unions as a compromise.  The proposal was made last month after Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox announced that he would not take up a House vote on marriage equality legislation.  Confident that the bill would not be able to overcome opposition in the Senate, Fox said there was "no realistic chance" of the bill making its way to the desk of supportive Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I).

Though neither side of the marriage equality debate supports civil unions, they have very different reasons.  Advocates for marriage equality contend that civil unions treat loving and committed gay and lesbian couples as second-class citizens, while opponents see civil unions as a stepping stone to marriage equality.

"This creates a separate status only for gay people to send a message that gay people are not worthy of the protections marriage provides," said Karen Loewy, an attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).

Though many lawmakers see civil unions as a compromise to the marriage equality legislation that was assumed to fail this year, it's unclear how many of them would vote in support of the civil unions bill and that's attributed to the lack of support from parties on either side of the debate.

"I think civil unions are just a no-win situation, " said Rep. Doreen Costa (R-North Kingstown).

Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), the statewide advocacy organization spearheading marriage equality legislation, is working to resurrect the legislation that was assumed to fail this year.  The organization is urging supportive Rhode Islanders to contact their lawmakers and ask that they vote "yes" on the Handy amendment.  In the wake of Speaker Fox's announcement last month, Rep. Art Handy, an original co-sponsor of the marriage equality legislation, announced that he would introduce an amendment to the civil unions legislation that would grant full marriage equality to the loving and committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of and be responsible for each other.

Included among those couples are Melanie Silva and Annie Cronin-Silva.  Media trained by GLAAD last November, the couple spoke with the local ABC affiliate following yesterday's House Judiciary Committee hearing.  (To see their interview, you'll need to scroll to :55 past the commercial.)

GLAAD has been on the ground in Providence, R.I., twice in recent months, training couples and individuals on how to speak in the media about the importance of marriage for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.  We will continue to support the tireless efforts of our colleagues in Rhode Island, and we look forward to the day when all of Rhode Island’s loving and committed couples are treated equally.  Until that day comes, we urge the media to continue spotlighting the stories of those couples who are still not able to take care of and be responsible for the people they love most: each other.