The Rhode Island house judiciary committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, clearing the way for a house vote on the measure Thursday.
The Associated Press reports that the committee approved the bill by a 9 to 3 vote.
“The bill would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions granting all of the rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law, but stops short of sanctioning marriage. The proposal was introduced as a compromise after legislative leaders said gay marriage legislation lacked the votes to pass this year,” reports the AP.
However, marriage equality advocates, unhappy about the second-class status conferred by civil unions, plan to make a last-minute push to replace the bill with a proposal to grant full marriage rights. Antigay critics, such as the National Organization for Marriage, also oppose the bill because they consider civil unions a stepping stone to granting marriage equality.
“Lawmakers in favor of gay marriage plan to offer an amendment to transform the civil union proposal into a gay marriage bill when it is debated by the House,” reports the AP. “Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, is crafting the amendment. He said lawmakers should have the chance to vote on gay marriage.”
It appears doubtful the measure will succeed. House speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, decided to back civil unions last month after he determined the votes were not there to pass the measure in the legislature. The speaker, who has been heavily criticized by marriage equality advocates, defended his decision in a separate interview with the Associated Press.
“‘I believe they have a higher expectation of me,’ Fox said, because of his sexual orientation,” according to the AP. “‘I think it's also people that want this badly, that may not understand the process as much.’ ... When they say ‘Oh we've now got a gay speaker of the House, now anything is possible.’”