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Paxson endorses same-sex marriage in R.I.

Paxson’s support is as a ‘local business owner’ and is separate from any University advocacy

President Christina Paxson signed a petition in February calling for the Rhode Island General Assembly to legalize same-sex marriage. Her signature on the petition marks the first time she has taken a public stance on the issue.

Paxson signed onto the Rhode Island Business Leaders for Marriage Equality Pledge because “it is an issue (she) feels strongly about and one that she believes the General Assembly should address for a number of reasons, including those stated in the petition,” Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn wrote in an email to The Herald.

She was the only president of a Rhode Island college or university to sign the petition.

The petition — sponsored by Rhode Islanders United for Marriage — highlights the possible economic benefits to the state from allowing same-sex marriage but adds that expanding the definition of marriage to encompass gay and lesbian couples is the only way that “every employee or potential employee will be treated fairly.”

On the petition, Paxson is identified as a local business leader and her title is indicated as “President, Brown University.” But Quinn distinguished between Paxson’s personal support for same-sex marriage and official University advocacy for the policy. “We did not add Brown to the listing as an institution nor did we authorize the use of the logo, which were options on the pledge,” Quinn wrote.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Jan. 24 that would legalize same-sex marriage, the first time in the state’s history one of the branches of the legislature has supported this kind of legislation. The bill was then sent to the Senate, where it has laid dormant since its arrival. The Senate Judiciary Committee must approve the bill before the full Senate will have a chance to vote on it.

The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Michael McCaffrey has said he will allow a vote on the bill in his committee this term. But the confirmed opposition of four committee members, including McCaffrey, out of the 10 total — with four in favor and two undecided — means the legislation’s fate is unknown. If the legislation passes the committee vote, it will face a full Senate body that remains equally divided on the issue.

Despite Paxson’s personal support for the same-sex marriage bill, the University’s “legislative director has not weighed in with the legislature on this issue,” Quinn wrote.

Quinn did not comment on whether Paxson consulted with either faculty members or students before signing the petition. University Council of Students President Anthony White ’13 said Paxson did not consult with UCS before signing the petition.

If Paxson had endorsed the legislation on behalf of the University, the decision process would have been longer, Quinn wrote.

The petition’s focus on same-sex marriage’s potential economic benefits to the state exemplifies a generally less common argument that has received some prominent support during Rhode Island’s debate over the legislation.

“Legalizing same-sex marriage would increase revenue in the state while also generating much-needed business for companies in the tourism and hospitality industries,” according to the petition. Same-sex marriage would also give Rhode Island “the ability to attract and retain top talent from around the world,” which, according to the petition, “is critical to creating a competitive business environment.”

Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 echoed similar claims during his advocacy for same-sex marriage legislation. Chafee joined a panel discussion at New York University in February to discuss the “economic harms” to Rhode Island of continuing to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. He argued that talented workers who are gay, whom Rhode Island needs for economic growth, will prefer to settle in states with same-sex marriage like Connecticut, New York or Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reported.

Rhode Island for Marriage, an organization opposed to same-sex marriage, has several posts on its website disputing the legislation’s economic benefit. The organization cites data that nine out of the 10 states that Chief Executive Magazine ranked the “best states for business” have “voted to preserve traditional marriage,” according to its website.


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