March 17, 2011
Same-sex "marriage" bills (H 5012 and S 29) have been heard in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, but have not yet received a vote. Gordon Fox, openly homosexual and the speaker of the largely Democratic House, wants to delay the vote on the House version of the bill until he can be sure it has enough supporting votes to pass. This hesitance to move forward with same-sex marriage is good news for supporters of marriage defined as one man and one woman.
Even if the votes are obtained to pass the House, Senate passage is far from certain especially since the Senate President, Theresa Paiva-Weed, opposes same-sex marriage. Governor Lincoln Chafee, however, supports the bills, even urging their passage in his inaugural address, and has pledged his signature should one of them reach his desk.
These two same-sex marriage bills are not the only legislation regarding marriage and relationships in Rhode Island. Also heard in the Senate Judiciary committee last Thursday were two constitutional amendments defining marriage (S 162 and S 115). Senate Bill 162 defines the only valid marriage in RI as between a man and a woman, while Senate Bill 115 also defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but leaves open the possibility of establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. Should either of these bills pass (or the House version, H 5260), it would be submitted to the citizens of Rhode Island for a vote.
Two bills regarding domestic unions between persons of the same sex have also received a hearing. Senate Bill 376 would legalize domestic unions between any two adult spouses regardless of sex, and Senate Bill 377 would establish reciprocal beneficiary agreements for any two adults who do not fit within the legal definition of marriage, essentially granting the rights, benefits, and protections of marriage to same-sex couples.
Also in both House and Senate committees are bills that further expand the definition of "hate crimes," making the motivation behind a crime a crime itself and including gender identity and sexual orientation as a protected class (H 5089 and S 121). In addition, several bills implementing abortion restrictions or unborn child protections are currently in committee.