Thursday, November 8, 2012

Now is the time for Marriage Equality in Rhode Island

Gordon Fox
According to Judy Harrison and Christopher Cousins of the Bangor Daily News, "same-sex couples in Maine should be able to obtain marriage licenses by Jan. 5." As of that date same-sex marriage will be allowed in every New England state except Rhode Island, which is still stuck with an offensive, "some people are more equal than others" civil union law.

Maine voters historically approved same-sex marriage the same night as voters in both Maryland and Washington, and another state, Minnesota, rejected defining marriage as being one-man/one-woman. Given that a major talking point of those opposed to same-sex marriage is that all progress to advance marriage equality has resulted from legislative and judicial rulings and not through the electoral process, recent events show that they need to rethink their strategy. They are losing.

Professional bigot Christopher Plante, head of NOM-RI, a regional branch of the anti-same-sex marriage organization, told me just over two years ago that supporters don't put marriage equality on the ballot because they know they will lose. That was the conventional wisdom then, but time, and conventional wisdom, changes.

Gordon Fox, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, who narrowly avoided losing his seat for a laundry list of very good reasons to Independent Mark Binder, has pledged to bring marriage equality to a full vote in the House this year, and I believe that it's the only reason he squeaked out a win.  Had Fox lost his seat, his replacement for Speaker of the House might very well have been Democrat Nicholas Mattiello, a conservative Catholic Democrat who would follow Bishop Tobin's reactionary doctrines on gay rights and reproductive freedoms as far as he felt it possible.

However, despite Fox's promise to put marriage on the fast track in the House, there is still the matter of Rhode Island State Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, who is opposed to marriage equality and is herself a conservative Catholic Democrat. (When people wonder why Rhode Island, with its weak Republican Party, passed such odious legislation as the Voter ID law or considered its own version of a mandatory ultrasound bill, it is because they do not realize that our conservatives are Democrats in name only.)

So here's the way I see it. If full marriage equality does not come out of the General Assembly this year, then all efforts must be centered on removing Paiva-Weed from office and installing a new State Senator in her place. This effort should be started as soon as possible, because she needs to feel the political pressure right away. After all, the only reason Gordon Fox moved on his position is because he suddenly felt extremely vulnerable because of Mark Binder's efforts. In all my years of living on the East Side, I have never seen Fox walking door-to-door for votes before, but this year he came to my door and shook my hand. He barely returned my calls in the past.

If Fox is from this day forward a better, more progressive representative, we can all thank Mark Binder for making that happen.

Paiva-Weed will be a tougher nut to crack. She's a conservative Catholic and I'm sure Bishop Tobin has her number on speed dial. She remains a popular candidate in Jamestown and Newport, and like Gordon Fox, mostly runs unopposed. Paiva-Weed supported the Civil Unions bill, though the Bishop opposed it, but this was only because of political pressure. Paiva-Weed did not want to look like a complete bigot. So it can be inferred that as much as Paiva-Weed wants to satisfy the demands of the Catholic hierarchy, her position can be shifted if the right kind of pressure is brought to bear.

The other option is to get marriage equality on the ballot in 2014. Of course, this would be a titanic effort to undertake on the part of the various LGBT groups in Rhode Island, though it certainly must be easier in a state as small as ours compared to comparable efforts in Maine, Maryland and Washington. I sincerely hope our local groups are up to such a task if it proves necessary.

1 comment:

  1. We need to either put high pressure on Paiva-Weed and by that I mean, letters, phone calls, home visits, etc. Or we need to make damned sure we have a candidate to run against her come next election. One of the two.

    There is the possibility that Fox will play hardball with Paiva-Weed - that would be spectacular to be honest.