House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), a leading supporter of the gay marriage bill, said in an email that he “will recommend that the House not move forward with a vote on the marriage equality bill during this legislative session,” and that he will instead support a civil unions bill.
“I have had conversations with Senate leadership and, unlike the marriage equality bill, I am optimistic that a civil unions’ bill can gain passage in both chambers during this legislative session,” Fox wrote.
“The new civil union bill is currently being drafted and will soon be ready for introduction and public inspection. I will be one of the sponsors.
“Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress in 1996, the federal government does not recognize same sex marriages and therefore federal rights are not granted to same sex couples who get married in states that allow it.”
Reaction to Fox’s announcement has been swift and critical.
“With support for the freedom to marry topping 60 percent — higher than in any other state in the country — and with a strongly supportive governor, the Rhode Island House should send a marriage bill — and nothing less — to the Senate now,” Solomon said.
“Nothing short of marriage is equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian citizens and their children,” said Karen Loewy, an attorney for the Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, in a statement.
“By citing DOMA, Speaker Fox lets the federal government set the standard for discrimination and sells out the gay community for the sake of political expediency. DOMA’s days are numbered as it comes under increasing legal and political attack,” Loewy said.
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed’s opposition to the marriage equality bill was seen as a key obstacle to its passage. In a statement to reporters, she said she supports civil union legislation and is confident it will pass.