In the hours after vote tallies for Rhode Island's Sept. 11 Democratic primaries started to pour in, political analysts and newspapers rushed to interpret what the results meant for the future of same sex-marriage in the state.
"Tonight's Democratic primaries were not kind to gay marriage supporters, who claimed just one of six key state Senate races," reported Maggie Gallagher for the Providence Phoenix blog Sept. 11.
But Ray Sullivan, campaign director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island and of Fight Back R.I., disagreed with that interpretation. Even after the primaries, Sullivan said he is still certain about the state's prospects for legalizing same-sex marriage. Contrary to reports in several online blogs and newspaper articles, marriage equality supporters won nine races of the 19 they had endorsed - two in the Senate and seven in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Sullivan said.
"We had (a) few very big wins in Tuesday's primaries," he added. "We knocked off an anti-equality incumbent, Sen. Michael Pinga, D-West-Warick, and also helped Ryan Pearson (representing Cumberland and Lincoln), secure a win."
The victories of Pearson and Adam Satchell, who ran successfully against Pinga, were two wins for gay marriage supporters in the Senate. Five other endorsed races for Senate seats were unsuccessful, but Sullivan said that the two big wins in the Senate and several more in the House were a "good boost in momentum as we start to focus on the races for the general elections in November."
Laura Pisaturo's Warwick Senate race was one that garnered particular attention and support throughout the state. The fact that Pisaturo's loss was so narrow was impressive, since she was attempting the difficult task of dislodging an incumbent in a primary," said Denis Dison, vice president of communications for the Gay and Lesbian Fund, an organization that endorsed Pisaturo.
Incumbent Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick, held office for 18 years and had the whole Senate behind him, said Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick. "Even though (Pisaturo) didn't win the position, her race was a win for me because of the support she got for marriage equality. She brought out the voters - in the 2010 primaries, there were a total of 2,500 votes cast in the district, but this year there were a little more than 3,400 votes cast, and she received over 1,600 of them," he said.
Ferri said that Pisaturo, who is openly gay, did not run her race purely on the grounds of marriage equality, though he said the press and her opponent tried to emphasize that aspect. But her loss by a mere 227 votes should be a wake-up call to the Senate, making them pause to consider the enormous amount of support marriage equality has gained in the state, Ferri said.
Her race aimed to replace "the politics of division and inequality with policies of inclusion, compassion and equality," Pisaturo wrote in an email to The Herald.
Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, has promised to bring the House to a vote on gay marriage next year. Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Providence, who originally sponsored the bill in the General Assembly seven years ago, said she recognizes that the majority of the House is pro-marriage equality and said she does not believe that it will be difficult for the bill to pass.
"The Senate is more conservative, and we don't have as many pro-equality members there, but as a result of these primaries, we might be a little closer," she said.
But it is important to wait for the results of the general elections in November to get a true sense of the course marriage equality will take in Rhode Island, Perry said.
Greg Pare, director of communications for Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Jamestown and Newport, who is personally opposed to gay marriage, echoed the sentiment.
Sullivan said he believes that marriage equality is the right thing, not just for the state but also for humanity.
"It's a civil right - all R.I. citizens, regardless of who they choose to love, should be respected and treated equally in the eyes of the law," he said. "There are more pro-equality members in the House and Senate than there ever were in history, and even though they are not in a majority in the Senate yet, it's only a matter of time before we elect a pro-marriage equality majority and pass this civil rights legislature," he said.
"Even though we have civil unions in R.I., it does not award the same civil rights as marriage. Separate but equal does not work in our country, and full civil rights for LGBT families is our goal," Dison said.
Marriage equality is good for the state because it is good for families, Ferri said. "When families thrive, the state thrives," he said.
The fact that neighboring states such as Massachusetts have already enacted a marriage equality law has cast the spotlight more intensely on Rhode Island. "The enactment of the law in Massachusetts shows that marriage equality has not ripped asunder the relationship between a man and a woman getting married, just because a man and man or woman and a woman get married. Traditional marriage is still going on and is fine," Perry said.
Rhode Island and Maine are the only two states in the New England area that have not yet legalized same-sex marriage.