Rhode Island became the union’s 13th state way back in 1790. Now it’s been given the chance to snag a more premiere spot on another list, except it looks like it’s abandoning the opportunity. With five states having legalized gay marriage, and with New Hampshire en route, Rhode Island is the lone New England hold out. And if concerns about conservative Roman Catholics are to be believed, it’ll stay that way for now.
Since 1997, legislators have tried every year to get a same-sex marriage bill to the House floor. And every year, they come up short. Advocates fear it’s going to happen yet again. AP:
… The movement has stalled in Rhode Island, perhaps even lost ground, after a stalemate at the Statehouse, a loss in the state’s top court and continued opposition from religious leaders.
[…] Religion remains among the biggest hurdles. A recent survey by Trinity College in Connecticut showed 46 percent of Rhode Islanders identify themselves as Roman Catholic, a larger percentage than any other state. Given its size, the church carries political clout. On the last Inauguration Day, every statewide elected official began the morning with a special Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, celebrated by Bishop Thomas Tobin. Tobin does not hesitate to tussle with politicians, especially on gay marriage. He calls gay unions a perversion of natural law and a violation of an institution that Catholics believe was created by God. Two years ago, he harshly criticized Attorney General Patrick Lynch, a Catholic, for advising state agencies to recognize the marriages of gay couples wed outside Rhode Island. “We don’t see it as a civil rights issue,” Tobin said in a recent interview, “because there’s never a right to do something that’s morally wrong.”
Bills legalizing gay marriage have been introduced in the Statehouse every year since 1997. None has ever been approved by a legislative committee, required before those bills could be aired on the full floor. House Speaker William Murphy and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, both Democrats and Catholics, oppose gay marriage.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rhoda Perry, a Democrat from Providence, does not expect to get a vote this year. She believes legislative leaders are trying to shield fellow lawmakers from a fractious debate. “You know your numbers,” Perry said. “So why make anyone even have to vote on something that at least some of their constituents will be upset about if you already know the votes aren’t there.”
Even if a simple majority of lawmakers backed Perry’s bill, Republican Gov. Don Carcieri — another Catholic — would almost certainly veto it. Overriding a veto requires the support of 60 percent of lawmakers in each chamber.