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.