Senator M. Teresa Paiva Weed
Rhode Island Senate Leader Commits to Marriage Vote

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2012 11:26 AM ET

Rhode Island may soon cease to be the only state in New England without a marriage equality law now that Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed has committed to allowing a vote on the issue in the next year.

Paiva Weed, a Democrat, said in an interview Monday there would “certainly” be a vote on marriage equality legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Rhode Island Public Radio. She did not predict the outcome of the vote, but said she expects amendments about a statewide referendum to receive extensive discussion following the results of similar votes in nearby states.

“In light of the outcome of referendums in Maine and in Maryland, I anticipate that the concept of initiative or referendum will probably be more thoroughly debated this year than in past years,” she said.

The Senate President said her commitment to a vote affirmed a previous statement from Senate Judiciary chairman Michael McCaffrey, who fended off an energetic primary challenge from a marriage equality supporter. The chairman said he expected a vote would come before his committee. Should the panel advance the bill, the measure would go before the full legislature for a vote.

Using a model applied in other states, advocates in Rhode Island worked through the Fight Back RI PAC this election cycle to make the composition of the legislature more favorable for marriage equality. Despite historic gains last month, Senator Paiva Weed’s opposition to a vote in her chamber remained a significant obstacle.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island reacted to the news of her changed position in a statement.

“We are both excited and grateful that the Senate President has decided to schedule a Judiciary Committee vote on marriage equality in 2013, following the House’s expected passage of this historic civil rights legislation,” said campaign director Ray Sullivan. “We will continue to actively reach out to legislators on both sides of the aisle and grow our broad coalition of supporters in the House and Senate. Today’s news is another positive step in the right direction, but we won’t stop until the work of winning equal rights and recognition under the law for all loving, committed couples is complete, with legislation signed into law by Governor Chafee.”

House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has already promised to hold a vote on marriage equality legislation in 2013. Two years ago, he backed a civil unions compromise that disappointed advocates and included extensive religious protections.

Rhode Island is one of a handful of small and medium-sized states where advocates are focused on winning marriage equality in the coming year. Other prospects include Delaware, New Jersey and Illinois.