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RI Senate president expects same-sex marriage vote


The Rhode Island Senate president said this week she anticipates a committee vote on same-sex marriage in the coming legislative session, despite her opposition to it, if the House of Representatives endorses it.

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat, said her opposition to same-sex marriage, which kept the legislation from being heard last year, has not changed but she expects the issue will be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee if the House advances a bill.

House Speaker Gordon Fox, a Providence Democrat who is openly gay, has said he intends to call an early vote on gay-marriage legislation and passing it is one of his top priorities.

The House did not vote last year after it became clear legislation wouldn’t pass the Senate in the face of strong opposition from Paiva Weed. Both chambers instead passed a civil union law that independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed into law.

Paiva Weed said the Senate wouldn’t take up the bill on its own, only after the House acts. But, she added, “I do anticipate a vote in the Senate Judiciary committee.”

Asked to characterize her stance on the issue, Paiva Weed said only: “My position has not changed.”

In an interview last month, Fox cited gains in the state’s General Assembly and gay marriage victories around the U.S. as evidence that the public supports allowing same-sex couples to wed.

“This election shows there’s been a real change on this issue,” he said. “I’m hopeful. There’s definitely a trend here. There’s a wave, and we should ride it.”

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the lead organization in the fight for equal marriage rights for gay couples in the state, said in a statement Monday his group is “excited and grateful” that Paiva Weed expects a Senate committee vote. While calling it another step in the right direction, he stressed that his group will continue its push until a same-sex marriage bill is signed into law.

Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states – Maine, Maryland, Washington, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont – and in the District of Columbia.

Rhode Island is the only state in New England that does not allow gay marriage. The state recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere, following an executive order by Chafee, who supports gay marriage.

Chafee said last week he very much wants to sign a gay-marriage bill.

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