Rhode Island House Speaker Promises Marriage Vote

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com June 30 2012 10:15 AM ET

Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox said that he intends to hold a vote on marriage equality legislation next year if he is reelected to his leadership post.

Fox, who is gay, made the remarks Friday in an interview taping with WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

"I'm calling the vote," he said. "It's one of those issues that I need to come back, we need to address, and I intend if I'm elected speaker to address it early."

Last year, Fox decided not to hold the vote on marriage equality legislation although advocates believed there were enough votes to pass the measure in the Democratic-controlled chamber. Instead, Rhode Island lawmakers passed a civil unions bill that has been criticized because of its broad religious exemptions. 

Fox, who is seeking reelection this November, also said in the interview, "It's one of the main reasons I'm coming back. There's unfinished business."

Ray Sullivan, the campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, issued a statement in response to the comments from Fox.

"We appreciate Speaker Fox's commitment to finally calling a vote on marriage equality and look forward to working with him to pass this important civil rights legislation early in the next session,” he said. “Under Speaker Fox and Gov. Chafee's leadership, all eyes will turn to the Senate, where there is a wide coalition working to ensure that a pro-equality majority is elected.”

"Every day, we strive to make 2013 the year in which all loving, committed couples are finally recognized, respected and treated equally under the law,” he said.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, also a Democrat, opposes the marriage equality legislation. A survey from Public Policy Polling last year cited by WPRI indicated that 50% of Rhode Islanders support the same-sex marriage bill, with Democrats and young voters widely in favor. 

Rhode Island remains a holdout among surrounding states that have marriage equality laws. Earlier this year, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order mandating that state agencies recognize legal same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, welcomed Fox’s announcement in a statement.

“With overwhelming public support and surrounded by freedom to marry states, Rhode Island is past due for a freedom to marry law,” he said. “We appreciate Speaker Gordon Fox's commitment to moving marriage legislation in 2013, and look forward to working closely with Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Speaker Fox, Governor Chafee, and other allies to secure passage of a bill early next year.  Combined with a victory at the ballot in Maine this November, passing this bill will enable all loving and committed couples the freedom to marry throughout New England.”

In the interview, which airs Sunday on Fox Providence, Fox said he viewed the civil unions law as part of an incremental strategy on the way to marriage equality.

"I never believed civil unions was a replacement for full marriage equality," he said.