House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, said the legislation has "no realistic chance" of passing the state's General Assembly this year. Fox, a Providence Democrat, said instead he will support new legislation creating civil unions that would offer substantially the same rights given by the state to married couples.
"This is the best we can do right now," he said. "Full marriage will happen. I'm born and bred in Rhode Island. When I do get married it will be in my home state."
The announcement deeply disappointed those who hoped this would be the year the Ocean State joined five other states in recognizing gay marriage. Groups that led the fight for gay marriage said they wouldn't support any measure that falls short of full marriage.
Fox—who became Rhode Island's first Black and first openly gay House speaker in February 2010—cited opposition in the House and Senate from both parties. Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is also considered one of the bill's prime obstacles. Weed supports civil unions.
A group of college students demonstrated this afternoon outside Fox's office in hopes of persuading him to allow a House vote on the marriage bill measure. Fox defended his decision to shift strategy to civil unions, reports the Providence Journal.
"I have been in a domestic partnership for 11 years. I have lived it," said the openly gay Providence Democrat to a crowd of 20 mostly college-age protesters. "And I am not stepping back one iota from my belief that marriage equality is what Rhode Island needs. But I have to balance that with what we can achieve now."
He argued that he supports civil unions knowing that he has a commitment from Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and Governor Chafee that this would pass this session and give Rhode Islanders "real rights now."
Fox explained the strategy shift in a letter to colleagues this afternoon. Read the full text of Speaker Fox's letter AFTER THE JUMP ...