Committee to vote on same-sex marriage

The R.I. Senate Judiciary Committee’s decision will determine whether the bill goes to a Senate vote

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee will vote today on same-sex marriage legislation that will decide whether this year’s efforts at legalization will move to a final test in the Senate. The bill — introduced by Sen. Donna Nesselbush ’84, D-Pawtucket — is identical to legislation that passed 51-19 in the House in January.

If the committee passes the legislation, it will go to a floor vote in the Senate. Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 has said he will sign the bill into law if it comes to his desk.

Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, the chairman of the committee, openly opposes same-sex marriage but has agreed to allow a committee vote. Five members of the 10-person committee have said they would vote for the legislation, and four have said they would vote against it, the Providence Journal reported. The remaining member, William Conley, D-East Providence, has not publicly stated how he will vote and has been courted by both supporters and opponents of the legislation as the presumed swing-vote.

Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Newport, has said she believes the bill will pass the committee without requiring she cast a tie-breaking vote, the Providence Journal reported.

If the bill makes it to the Senate floor, 15 senators will likely vote yes, two may vote  yes, 14 will likely vote no and four may vote no, while three senators remain officially undecided, predicted Providence Phoenix writer David Scharfenberg ’98. The Providence Journal reported that 15 senators will likely vote yes and 16 will likely vote no, with seven remaining undecided.

Local political analysts have recently written several articles arguing the prospects for the legalization of same-sex marriage have improved markedly in recent years. Scott MacKay ’83, political correspondent at Rhode Island Public Radio, attributed the bill’s improved chances to “changes in public opinion, the evolution of elected officials on the issue, the adoption of same-sex marriage in every other New England state and voter sentiment in four states, including Maine, that favored marriage equality in 2012 referenda.”

The committee will also vote on a bill — endorsed by several prominent opponents of same-sex marriage and introduced by Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence ­— that would put the same-sex marriage question to a referendum in 2014.

Immediately after the committee vote, The Herald and the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions will host a panel discussion on the implications of the vote for Rhode Island politics in MacMillan 117.

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