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Kathy Kushnir, the executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, announced her resignation while the organization remains in the midst of a campaign to win marriage equality this year.
According to a statement from Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the board of directors accepted the resignation from Kushnir, effective May 11, Monday night. An attorney, she led the organization for nearly three years.
"I leave Marriage Equality Rhode Island with a great sense of pride and satisfaction knowing we have moved this critical debate forward," said Kushnir in the statement. "I have every confidence marriage equality will be achieved this year for all Rhode Islanders. The organization is stronger than it has ever been and I am able to step down now, without regret, knowing the capabilities and organizational strength that is now in place. I want to thank the board for the incredible opportunity to lead this organization."
Following a promising start this winter, bolstered by support from Gov. Lincoln Chafee and house speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, the marriage campaign in Rhode Island appears increasingly stalled as the legislative session moves toward its June conclusion. Weeks after standing-room only hearings in house and senate committees, no votes have been scheduled on the bill, although advocates remain optimistic that the leadership could move soon.
In a brief interview with The Advocate, Marriage Equality Rhode Island spokesman Bill Fischer denied that the resignation was linked to the status of the campaign.
"Her decision is personal and I am not going to expand on that," he said of the announcement from Kushnir. "I can tell you it is not related to the legislative initiative for equality that we are currently engaged in at the statehouse."
Fischer also rejected talk of changing strategy to push for civil unions, which recently passed in Delaware. Rhode Island senate president M. Teresa Paiva Weed, viewed as an obstacle to marriage equality in her chamber, has said that she would support civil unions. However, in a visit to the state last month, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin urged lawmakers not to settle for civil unions based on the experience in his state, which now recognizes marriage equality.
"There has been a lot of speculation and rumor about a civil union compromise of late," said Fischer. "We have no intention of compromising on civil union legislation."
The resignation marks the second departure of a statewide advocacy group leader in less than a week. On Friday, Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland, announced that she had left the organization, not by her own choice. The board voted to fire her in the wake of setbacks for marriage equality and gender identity antidiscrimination bills during the legislative session that ended two weeks ago.
Marriage Equality Rhode Island thanked Kushnir for her service in the statement Tuesday morning.
"On behalf of MERI's board of directors, staff, volunteers and supporters, I want to thank Kathy for her years of tireless dedication and service to the marriage equality initiative in Rhode Island," said Martha Holt, chair of the board of directors. "Although she will be missed, our mission remains to achieve full marriage equality for same-sex couples in Rhode Island this year. Anything less is unacceptable and we remain confident of achieving our goal. We wish her the best of luck in future endeavors."