A controversial same-sex civil unions bill was advanced by a Rhode Island House committee on Tuesday in a 9-3 vote.
Gay marriage advocates have criticized the bill saying that legislators opted for civil unions over gay marriage for political ease without even putting up a fight for full marriage equality.
The committee took no public testimony before voting and there was little discussion — only an update from a House lawyer on several “technical” changes made to the bill since last week and a comment from Rep. Doreen M. Costa, R-North Kingstown, who asked why the committee was voting.
“I have never seen more opposition to any bill in the four months that I’ve been up here. I’m not just talking about two or three or four people opposing this bill, I’m talking thousands and thousands,” Costa said. “If we have nobody that wants this bill, then why would the members of this committee vote this bill out?”
When other committee members indicated they had nothing to add, Chairwoman Edith H. Ajello asked for a motion, and the committee voted.
A House floor vote is scheduled for Thursday.
After the vote, committee member Peter F. Martin — who sided with the majority — said most committee members supported the bill because that is what most people want.
“The majority of the people that I speak to in my daily life, my constituents, just basically say to me, give them civil unions,” he told a reporter. “Those people who say let them have civil unions are not so impassioned about the issue. They are being, what I believe to be, very Christian about the issue, and they say give them what they need.”
He added: “In all due respect to the passionate people that come up here … in the polls … those are the people who gravitate toward the extremes.”
As I wrote in our previous coverage of this story, critics say that lawmakers, including openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox, caved far too quickly to gay marriage foes without giving a marriage equality bill, that currently sits in a House subcommittee, a chance.
House Speaker Fox, however, cites that the Senate leader is on record as being against same-sex marriage and that there is “no realistic chance” of passing a same-sex marriage bill this year. In light of this, Fox says that a civil unions bill is a pragmatic compromise and that some recognition is better than none at all.
Regardless, this dispute led gay marriage advocates to hold a protest upon the bill’s introduction into the General Assembly.
Of course, gay rights detractors have also made their opposition known. Groups like the National Organization for Marriage have said that the bill will be a back-door way to legalizing same-sex marriage through court intervention.
However, other than a handful of staunch religious conservatives, reaction from the wider religious community seems to have been rather muted at this stage.
For past coverage of this issue, please click here.