Friday, January 7, 2011

Same-sex marriage bills introduced in R.I. House, Senate - Projo Politics Blog

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Same-sex marriage bills introduced in R.I. House, Senate
5:55 PM Thu, Jan 06, 2011 | Permalink
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By Katherine Gregg
Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- With the introduction on Thursday of same-sex marriage bills in both the House and Senate, the battle now begins.

In the House, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston introduced his annual bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The 29 lawmakers co-signing the bill include House Speaker Gordon D. Fox.

As she introduced similar legislation in the Senate, Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, said she hoped it would get a hearing and vote early in the legislative session.

A mirror of Handy's bill, it legalizes "civil marriage'' between people of the same gender to marry, while specifying that no religious institution would be required to marry same-sex couples if that would go against their teachings.

"We want to get it going early on," she said. "We want to have debate and a hearing, and we do not want to wait until the end of the year."

The legislation has strong support in the House, where Fox, who is openly gay, has also expressed his desire for an early vote. But House Minority Leader Robert Watson, R-East Greenwich, says that while he favors "civil unions'' he draws a line when it comes to the word "marriage,'' and doesn't believe that changing the definition of marriage should be decided solely by the 75 members of the House, 38 in the Senate.

"I agree with those who say words have meaning,'' he said Thursday, citing words like "plantations'' in the official name of the state, and "illegal aliens'' as a term to describe some non-citizens. "All these words have power and meaning, and can offend and hurt and harm.

"Well, if that's the case, a civil union bill achieves what they are seeking to achieve. A gay marriage bill appears to be a little stronger ... And I would support any bill leaving this floor and going before the voters as a referendum question.''

The bill's chances in the Senate are more iffy.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed opposes same-gender marriage, which is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, but is facing a repeal effort in New Hampshire. (In Maine, voters overturned the state Legislature's approval of same-sex nuptials.)

Paiva Weed said after the brief session Thursday that it was "premature" to comment on how soon Perry's bill, which will be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, might be considered.

Perry said she believes the legislation would be approved if put to the full Senate, but noted that the bill, which she has introduced at least eight times in recent years, has never been put to a vote, even in the committee.

Meanwhile, a New York-based advocacy group registered its own opposition to the term "same-sex marriage.''

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said it would prefer the media and the public use the phrase "marriage for gay and lesbian couples" rather than "gay marriage," "same-gender marriage," "same-sex marriage," etc.

"The reason is this,'' said media field strategist Justin Ward. "Gay and lesbian couples are not looking to change the institution of marriage; they want to be a part of the institution as it exists now.''

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