Chris Plante, director of National Organization for Marriage in Rhode Island

In an unexpected move the National Organization for Marriage in Rhode Island, the organization dedicated to barring same-sex couples from civil marriage, is now backing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would not only legalize marriage for same-sex couples, but enshrine that right in the state’s constitution.

The constitutional amendment (S 708), filed yesterday by Sen Frank Ciccone, would also roll back part of the state’s anti-discrimination law to allow small businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples who wish to hire those businesses for wedding-related events.

Late yesterday, NOM-RI quietly inserted this comment into an email to supporters:

Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of the Diocese of Providence, had this to say about the newly proposed bill by Senator Frank Ciccone:

We will continue to vigorously oppose efforts to redefine the institution of marriage in Rhode Island.  Nevertheless, the legislation introduced by Senator Ciccone presents an eminently reasonable approach to this divisive issue. It advances the discussion in a positive and democratic way, while at the same time safeguarding the rights of all parties. The citizens of Rhode Island have a right to vote on this crucial issue.

We stand alongside the bishop 100% in this statement.

Why would NOM-RI and Bishop Tobin back a measure that would enshrine their worst nightmare — civil marriage for loving, committed same-sex couples — into the state constitution?  The measure is clearly a cynical ploy, a poison pill meant to entice senators into shirking their duty to take a decisive vote on the marriage equality bill (H 5015 and S 38) passed overwhelmingly by the House in late January, and instead pass the buck by sending this cynical constitutional amendment to the voters.

To get their way, NOM-RI and Bishop Tobin seem willing to lure legislators into the lowest depths of malpractice.  Not only would senators be shirking their duty by passing this measure on to the voters, but the portion of the measure that repeals anti-discrimination protections for same-sex couples in order to appease the anti-gay animus of certain small business owners seems unconstitutional at worst, and very bad public policy at best.

If senators take the bait and send the constitutional amendment to voters, NOM-RI and Bishop Tobin are probably wagering that voters will reject it overwhelmingly because it is unpalatable to both sides.  Good government advocates and marriage equality supporters will reject it because of the unconstitutional roll-back of anti-discrimination protections, and marriage equality opponents will reject it because it establishes marriage equality.

NOM-RI and Bishop Tobin must be pretty desperate to be resorting to such a cynical, bad faith stunt.  However, both NOM and the Catholic hierarchy have a long history of opposing relationship recognition laws for same-sex couples until those laws seem inevitable.  Then, they speak as if they accept those laws as a way of building a beachhead against any further LGBT civil rights advances.

NOM-RI, for example, currently pretends to support civil unions, despite previously fighting their establishment in Rhode Island.

After a while, it’s hard to know what NOM and the Catholic hierarchy really stand for beyond animus-driven subterfuge and dirty tricks.