Rhode Island Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, D-Providence, sent a letter to House representatives yesterday announcing his decision to support civil unions after what he deemed to be an unsuccessful attempt to pass gay marriage legislation.
Fox, who is gay, said his personal support for gay marriage rights has not changed. But he recommended halting progress on the current marriage equality bill and is instead sponsoring a civil union bill currently being drafted. If passed, the bill will grant gay couples in civil unions the same rights currently offered to straight couples in Rhode Island.
Fox said he is pessimistic about the likelihood that the gay marriage bill — which is currently being debated in the House — could realistically pass the Senate, adding that he believes the civil union bill will ultimately lead to increased rights for gay and lesbian couples because it enjoys greater bipartisan support.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 said in a statement that though he supports Fox’s opinion on the matter, he had been an advocate of the marriage equality bill and was hoping for its enactment this year.
“My response is, I’m really disappointed, but I still plan to fight for equality under the law,” said Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, in an April 27 Providence Journal article. “I think it’s outrageous that we’d be talking about anything less than that for same-sex couples.”
Marriage Equality Rhode Island said in a statement Tuesday it does not support legalizing civil unions as an alternative for gay marriage. After Fox’s announcement, the group released another statement reinforcing their opposition to compromising their support of gay marriage for civil unions.
“It’s somewhat of a shock to us,” said Jessica Mitter ’13, a member of the Queer Political Action Committee. She said the organization did not expect the decision given Fox’s past commitment to the bill. “I’m not sure the situation is as bad as he says it is,” she said of the gay marriage bill’s prospects of passage.
The committee set up a Facebook event encouraging students to call Fox and urge him to change his mind. She said that given Chafee’s support, the state should not pass up an opportunity to advance gay rights. “I feel like this is giving up,” she said.