Marriage momentum continues with bills introduced in Rhode Island and Illinois

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

After Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a marriage equality bill into law in Washington state, momentum for marriage is growing.

In Rhode Island, State Rep. Art Handy and State Sen. Rhoda Perry are expected to introduce a marriage bill to replace an unpopular civil union law that passed last year.

Rhode Island’s Rep. David Cicciline is one of four openly gay members of Congress. The speaker of the Rhode Island House, Gordon Fox, is gay. And Gov. Lincoln Chaffee said he would sign a marriage bill if it passed.

Last year, Illinois passed relationship recognition. This week, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly. Backers of the bill said that the civil union law that is in effect leaves out some important rights.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who signed the Freedom to Marry pledge at the national mayor’s conference, said he will back marriage equality in Illinois.

In New Jersey, a marriage equality bill passed the Senate this week and was headed to the Assembly. Gov. Chris Christie has said he would veto the bill, and that the issue should be decided voters. According to polls, a majority of people in New Jersey support marriage equality. Meanwhile, in Maryland, the governor testified before two legislative committees last week in favor of a marriage equality bill.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signed on to Freedom to Marry petition calling on the Democratic Party to add marriage equality to its party platform.

—  David Taffet

REVIEW: “The Frequency of Death!”

Pegasus Theatre’s Living Black & White production has become as much a holiday season tradition as A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, and like those, it relies heavily on the familiar: The characters you’ve grown fond of, the emotional reaction you’ve come to expect. Unlike those, however, Pegasus can mix up the show every season, with new settings, new casts, new plots. (Who would want to see Xmas Carol without Tiny Tim, or set on Mars in 2121?)

That’s its blessing and its curse: It allows Pegasus’ artistic director, playwright and leading actor,Kurt Kleinmann — who always plays clueless gumshoe Harry Hunsacker — flexibility, but it also makes each show a crap-shoot: Will it be as good as last year?

This year’s production, The Frequency of Death!, is better … at least in Act 1, which has a high percentage of laughs, some hilarious performances and a setting — the studio a 1930s-era radio drama — that permits a variety of action.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

NY marriage a success; RI civil unions not so much

Speaker of Rhode Island House of Representatives Gordon D. Fox

In Dallas and cities across Texas, marriage equality marches and demonstrations will be held this weekend. The Dallas march takes place at 4:30 p.m. at Founder’s Square outside the County Records Building in Downtown Dallas.

This year one state — New York — has legalized same-sex marriage and two — Rhode Island and Illinois — have legalized civil unions.

Marriage in New York has been a success. Since the law began effective in July, one in five marriages — 20 percent — have been gay or lesbian couples.

The civil union laws? Not so much. In Illinois, 1,600 couples have taken advantage of civil unions since it went into effect on June 1. In Rhode Island, just 14 couples.

A number of reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for civil unions in Rhode Island include the proximity to states with full marriage and disappointment that the openly gay Speaker of the state House of Representatives, Gordon Fox, couldn’t deliver marriage equality.

Nowhere in the state is anyone more than 20 miles from either Connecticut or Massachusetts, both marriage equality states. And Vermont, New Hampshire and New York are short drives. So why settle for second class?

Even given Rhode Island’s small population, the rate is 10 times lower than other states that began offering civil unions. And the Illinois law does not have the number of exemptions where the civil unions can be disregarded as the Rhode Island law.

The Rhode Island law puts those who married elsewhere into the same position as Texans who marry elsewhere. The civil union law prohibits divorce. So while the state won’t recognize their marriages, it insists that couples who split remain married.

—  David Taffet

RI gay marriage advocates not giving up

DAVID KLEPPER | Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Advocates of gay marriage delivered a message to Rhode Island state lawmakers who blocked a same-sex marriage bill this year: We’re putting a political bull’s-eye on your back.

Hundreds of Rhode Islanders rallied at the Statehouse on Tuesday in favor of gay marriage (video above) — despite legislative leaders who say they’ll consider a compromise measure to create civil unions instead. Those at the rally vowed political revenge on those lawmakers who opposed making Rhode Island the sixth state to recognize gay marriage.

“The 2012 election cycle starts now,” Kate Brock, executive director of the group Ocean State Action, told a cheering crowd on the Statehouse steps. “We start recruiting candidates now. We start building our war chests now. Don’t get mad. Get elected.”

Meanwhile, House lawmakers introduced civil union legislation designed to give gay couples the same state rights afforded to married couples. Rep. Peter Petrarca, D-Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, said he supports gay marriage but that it has no chance of passing this year. He said the rights granted through civil unions are a better than none at all.

“To think we should have a vote (on gay marriage legislation) when we know it’s going to die is just foolish,” he told The Associated Press.

Last week, House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, announced that he was throwing his support behind civil unions because gay marriage legislation couldn’t pass the Senate. Fox is openly gay and his announcement deeply angered many gay marriage advocates. One carried a sign at Tuesday’s rally reading “Fox Hunting Season is Open.”

“It’s time to disband the House and Senate,” said the protester, Gary D’Amario of Cranston. “It’s time to get rid of all of them.”

Those at the rally included religious groups, students, couples gay and straight and a young woman with a vuvuzela. Miss Rhode Island Deborah Saint-Vil attended, as did several lawmakers.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the group that organized the rally, dismisses the civil union bill as a hollow compromise.

Fox said last week that he knows many gay marriage advocates hold him responsible for the bill’s failure. He said he believes the state will one day recognize gay marriages, but that this year the votes weren’t there.

“I live it every day and I understand what they’re going through,” Fox said. “As speaker of the House, I have to worry about passing bills.”

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s opposition was a key obstacle to the legislation. The Newport Democrat says she supports civil union legislation and believes the bill will win broad support in the Senate. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent who has urged lawmakers to pass a gay marriage bill, said he will sign the civil union measure.

But Chris Plante, director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island, said the bill’s passage is not a foregone conclusion. Plante said civil unions have proven to be a stepping-stone to full gay marriage laws in other states. People opposed to gay marriage, he said, also should oppose civil unions.

“It’s same-sex marriage by another name,” he said. “It is a backdoor way into legalizing gay marriage. I believe that we will be able to peel off significant amounts of votes once (lawmakers) understand that.”

The civil union bill could receive hearings as early as next week.

—  John Wright