A controversial same-sex civil unions bill was introduced into the Rhode Island General Assembly on Tuesday. Gay marriage advocates have criticized the move saying that legislators opted for the civil unions bill over a gay marriage bill without putting up any fight for full marriage equality.
Introduced by state Representative Peter Petrarca on Tuesday, the civil unions bill would grant all the same state-level rights as marriage.
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 would be a pragmatic compromise and that some recognition is better than none at all.
Around 200 people led by pro-gay marriage group Marriage Equality Rhode Island gathered Tuesday to protest the introduction of the civil unions bill.
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Angry protesters insisted separate is never equal and vowed to force a vote on marriage.
Democratic Representative Arthur Handy, the sponsor of the gay marriage bill, said he would introduce an amendment to Petrarca’s civil union bill, thus forcing a House vote this year on the issue. Many supporters believe Handy’s bill would have cleared the House. Less likely is the Senate, where Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has said she supports civil unions but not marriage for gay couples.
Fox responded that such a move would jeopardize the civil unions bill.
“The result … would be to kill the civil unions bill, thus denying long-overdue rights to same-sex couples in Rhode Island,” Fox said in a statement. “I don’t know why Representative Handy would attempt to deny these important rights, and I hope he gives great thought to its negative impact on same-sex couples before offering such an amendment.”
The National Organization for Marriage’s Rhode Island chapter opposes both measures because the groups says the civil unions bill is “same-sex marriage by another name.” As such the group is already threatening lawmakers that they will “peel off” voter support on this basis.