Rhode Island prepares for gay marriage debate

BY admin

February 12 2004 12:00 AM ET

Several state legislators in Rhode Island are expected to introduce matching bills in the house and senate this week that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, two bills have been introduced in the house that would not only ban gay marriages but also keep the state from recognizing marriage rights for gay couples wedded elsewhere. Last year bills that would have allowed civil unions as well as bills promoting full marriage rights for gay couples were introduced in the house and senate. The house bills died in the judiciary committee after a hearing, and the senate bills were never heard.

This year, supporters told The Providence Journal they are unifying behind bills promoting full marriage rights for gay couples and abandoning civil-union proposals. Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) said he expects to be a sponsor of a gay marriage bill again this year. The bill, he said, proposes creating what he is calling "civil marriage" for gay couples, and allows churches to opt in or out of performing such ceremonies. "I feel like it's a matter of equal rights and equal protection under the law," he said. Handy said his discussions with house leaders had been preliminary, and he was unsure how the bill would be received.

On the other side of the aisle, freshman representative Victor Moffitt (R-Coventry) recently introduced legislation he is calling the Marriage Eligibility Act. Moffitt's bill says a marriage "may only be entered into by one man and one woman." It goes on to say that same-sex marriage "is against the strong public policy of this state. Any marriage entered into by persons of the same sex in any other jurisdiction shall be considered and treated in all respects as having no legal force or effect in this state and shall not be recognized by this state."

"Basically I believe in traditional marriage. I always have," Moffitt said. "I believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman." Moffitt said he was keeping an "open mind" on the option of civil unions.

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