Gay marriage advocates in Rhode Island suffered a tough setback on Tuesday (September 11) in a Democratic primary race expected to impact the legislature's looming debate over whether to allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.
Senator Michael McCaffrey, an opponent of same-sex marriage and chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, edged out challenger Laura Pisaturo, who is a lesbian, the Associated Press reports.
Backers of same-sex marriage, including Rhode Island's Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, had hoped that a Pisaturo victory would help a same-sex marriage bill wriggle out of the judiciary committee, where it has previously languished.
“A big pro-marriage equality candidate (running) against this committee chair. That's a pivotal race in Rhode Island that will be an indication,” Chafee told the Washington Blade last week, adding that the race also had symbolic value.
“It's a blue collar district,” Chafee said. “It's representative of Rhode Island. If in that district they elect a pro-marriage equality candidate, it's going to send a broad, broad message across the state.”
In May, Chafee signed an executive order recognizing gay marriages performed in other states, but Rhode Island does not allow such marriages to be performed within its borders. A year earlier, he signed a bill allowing for same-sex civil unions, a compromise with those opposed to gay marriage that allows religious institutions, including hospitals and schools to deny the arrangement's legal status.
Followers of the legislature expect the issue will soon come up again.
Despite Pisaturo's loss, gay marriage backers said they remain optimistic. Ray Sullivan, campaign director of the pro-gay marriage group Fight Back Rhode Island, told the AP that several other candidates supported by his group had won their races.
‘‘We picked up some momentum, and we're very excited about the general election,'' he said.
Six states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages performed within their borders. Washington, Maine and Maryland could be added to the list, pending votes in November.