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Gay R.I. House Speaker to Introduce Civil Unions Bill

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Wednesday Apr 27, 2011

Acknowledging Rhode Island's marriage equality bill does not have enough votes to pass in the state Senate; gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) announced on Wednesday, April 27, he will sponsor a civil unions bill.

"Although my personal position on marriage equality has not changed, I have always been a practical person and I believe my pragmatism is one of the reasons why I was elected Speaker of the House," wrote Fox in a letter to legislative colleagues that the Providence Journal obtained. "Based on individual discussions with many of you, I understand how difficult the marriage equality issue has been. Based on your input, along with the fact that it is now clear to me that there is no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate, I will recommend that the House not move forward with a vote on the marriage equality bill during this legislative session. I will instead support full passage of a civil unions bill that grants important and long overdue legal rights to same-sex couples in Rhode Island."

Marriage equality activists in Rhode Island and elsewhere quickly criticized Fox.

"Civil unions are unacceptable because they marginalize gay and lesbian couples in very significant ways," said Martha Holt, chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island's Board of Directors, in a statement. "The General Assembly will essentially be legalizing a two-class system that subjects thousands of Rhode Island same-sex couples to discrimination. We cannot support legislation that establishes a second class of citizens in Rhode Island."

Fox's announcement comes less than two days after MERI executive director Kathy Kushnir resigned. Marc Solomon of Freedom to Marry stressed his organization remains committed to working with MERI to ensure marriage equality becomes a reality in the Ocean State.

"Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox has made a serious miscalculation," said Solomon. "With support for the freedom to marry topping 60 percent-higher than in any other state in the country, and with a strongly supportive governor, the Rhode Island House should send a marriage bill-and nothing less-to the Senate now. Couples who are doing the work of marriage in their day-to-day lives, who have made a commitment in life, deserve to have an equal commitment under the law. That legal commitment is called marriage. Freedom to Marry is prepared to join with Speaker Fox, advocates on the ground, and a super-majority of Rhode Islanders to make the strongest case to the Senate."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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