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Vermont Gov. to Talk R.I. Marriage

Vermont Gov. to Talk R.I. Marriage

Govshumlin

Vermont governor Peter Shumlin will visit Rhode Island Thursday to advocate for marriage equality legislation pending in the state.

According to a news release from statewide advocacy group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Shumlin and Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee will participate in an afternoon press conference with MERI board member Martha Holt at the state house in Providence. Shumlin also will meet privately with Chafee and with legislative leaders to discuss the bill.

In 2009, Vermont became the first state to enact marriage equality legislation after being the first state to approve civil unions in 2000. Shumlin, a Democrat elected governor last year, played a leading role in the civil union and marriage equality efforts as senate president.

"He's going to go and talk about Vermont's experience," said Bianca Slota, a spokeswoman for Shumlin, in an interview with The Advocate. "He wants to go and share the experience and say, 'I know it's a scary concept and it's not always an easy thing to, but here was our experience with it, and nothing bad happened.'"

In contrast to Vermont and neighboring New England states, Rhode Island has no civil unions law that would precede the enactment of marriage equality. A civil unions measure is being proposed in the legislature independent of the marriage equality bill, but Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which invited Shumlin, said his visit is not meant to suggest a change in strategy or retreat to incrementalism.

"We view Governor Shumlin's experience as being able to talk about the ineffectiveness of civil unions and not being equal," said MERI spokesman Bill Fischer. "I'm hopeful he'll bring the message, 'Don't make the same mistake we did.'"

As in previous years, committee hearings were held on the marriage equality bill this year in the Democratic-controlled senate and house, but no vote has taken place yet. A spokesperson for house speaker Gordon Fox, the gay cosponsor of the bill, said no committee vote was scheduled as of Tuesday.

A spokesperson for senate president Teresa Seiva-Weed, who opposes the marriage equality bill, did not return a call asking whether she planned to meet with Shumlin on Thursday. Observers say the measure faces greater challenges in the senate, and a vote is expected first in the house, if one occurs at all.

Despite the waiting game, Fischer said his group remains confident and continues to conduct a "very strong grassroots effort" in anticipation of the late spring after lawmakers conclude budget deliberations. He pointed to backing from Chafee and a recent announcement of support from the Rhode Island AFl-CIO executive board, which represents 80,000 workers across the state.

"We're not concerned that a vote hasn't happened," said Fischer. "We remain optimistic."

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