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R.I.: Civil Unions Bill Introduced

R.I.: Civil Unions Bill Introduced

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Legislation to establish civil unions for same-sex couples was introduced in Rhode Island Tuesday, as marriage equality advocates rallying at the state capitol denounced the move as a watered-down compromise.

Leaders of the state house of representatives decided to support civil unions legislation after concluding there were not enough votes to pass a marriage equality bill in this session. "To think we should have a vote [on same-sex marriage legislation] when we know it's going to die is just foolish," Rep. Peter Petrarca, the civil unions bill's sponsor, told the Associated Press.

Marriage equality activists, meanwhile, vowed to elect lawmakers who would support their cause. "The 2012 election cycle starts now," Kate Brock, executive director of the group Ocean State Action, told the hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the statehouse. "We start recruiting candidates now. We start building our war chests now. Don't get mad. Get elected."

One demonstrator carried a sign reading "Fox Hunting Season Is Open," a reference to Rep. Gordon Fox, the gay house speaker who agreed to support civil unions because of the dim prospects for the marriage bill. Fox said last week that he understood advocates' frustration, but the votes simply weren't there.

A major problem for the marriage bill was the opposition of senate president Teresa Paiva Weed, who said she would favor civil unions. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a marriage equality supporter, has said he would sign the civil unions bill. Hearings on the legislation may be held as early as next week.

Many activists against marriage equality remain equally opposed to civil unions. "It's same-sex marriage by another name," Chris Plante, director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island, told the AP. "It is a backdoor way into legalizing gay marriage. I believe that we will be able to peel off significant amounts of votes once [lawmakers] understand that."

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