Rhode Island House Proposes Gay Civil Unions

Legislation to allow civil unions for same-sex couples was introduced in Rhode Island on Tuesday, drawing protest from both sides of the gay marriage debate.

Gay marriage advocates are unhappy that the bill isn't for the legalization of marriage for lesbians and gays. Meanwhile, traditional marriage supporters are opposed to the measure altogether and contend that it essentially is same-sex marriage, but by another name.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Peter J. Petrarca (D-Lincoln) and models after laws recently approved in Delaware, Illinois and Hawaii. If passed, it would grant same-sex couples equal rights to those afforded to married couples.

Though House lawmakers, including House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), who is openly gay, initially wanted to put forward a same-sex marriage bill, they concluded that such a bill didn't have enough support to pass this year. The civil unions measure was a compromise.

Gay marriage has been debated in Rhode Island for years. Supporters are pushing their efforts this year with Lincoln Chafee, an advocate, in the governor seat now.

Opponents, meanwhile, want the vote to go to the people. According to the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, 80 percent of Rhode Islanders want the gay marriage issue to be decided by the people. Only 7 percent said they want a legislative vote.

Earlier this year, NOMRI launched ads accusing Chafee of wasting time trying to impose gay marriage rather than solving the state's economic problems.

"I don't want legislators messing with marriage," one of the ads says. "Marriage brings men and women together to help ensure that as many children as possible are raised by a mom and a dad. And kids need a mom and a dad."

The ad further urges viewers to call their representatives and tell them "not to mess with marriage" and instead let the people vote on it.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in five states as well as the District of Columbia.

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