PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Both Democrats running for governor and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee, an independent candidate, will publicly pledge to sign a gay marriage bill if elected, gay rights activists said Monday.
Attorney General Patrick Lynch and General Treasurer Frank Caprio, the Democrats, and Chafee have been invited to make their promise public at a Statehouse rally scheduled for March 3, said Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
Kushnir said Republican candidate John Robitaille has not returned her calls, although Robitaille said he was never contacted by Kushnir's group. He opposes gay marriage but would consider supporting a domestic parntership system for gay couples.
Although the three candidates previously have said they support gay marriage, the pledges come as gay rights activists hope to capitalize on the departure of Republican Gov. Don Carcieri, a staunch social conservative who opposes such unions. State law requires him to leave office after finishing his second term early next year.
"I think that it's really important that the people of Rhode Island understand that this can be a reality here sooner rather than later," Kushnir said. "One of the major obstacles we face right now is a veto from the governor's office, and that would be gone."
Rhode Island is the only New England state besides Maine that does not recognize gay marriage. The movement to legalize it has hit a plateau. Legislation that would permit gay marriage has died in the Democratic-dominated General Assembly every year without getting a vote since it was first introduced in 1997.
It seems unlikely the state Supreme Court will legalize same-sex marriage as the courts did in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 2007, Rhode Island's top court refused to let a lesbian couple married in Massachusetts get divorced in their home state of Rhode Island because the court said lawmakers have never defined marriage as anything except a union between a man and a woman.
Carcieri has not been the only political obstacle to gay marriage. Many socially conservative Democrats also oppose it, including Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed and House Speaker William Murphy, who intends to step down next year.
House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, a gay man who backs same-sex marriage, is seeking to replace Murphy.