Two marriage-related bills are currently in play in the Rhode Island state Senate. S38 is the senate version of the marriage equality bill that the House passed in late January by an overwhelming majority of 51 to 19. S708 is a bill that would send a referendum to voters asking whether the state constitution should be amended to remove the gender limitations on marriage as well as roll back certain anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians.
National Organization for Marriage in Rhode Island, the group opposing marriage equality for same-sex couples in Rhode Island, desperately hopes that if the Senate Committee on Judiciary passes either bill out of committee, it will be S708, the constitutional amendment. The committee is scheduled to consider both bills on Thursday, March 21.
There can be only one reason why NOM-RI would favor this outcome: they don’t think they can stop passage of the marriage equality bill (S38).
NOM-RI calls the marriage equality bill (S38) “the worst option” among the marriage bills because, they claim, it has “almost non-existent religious protections”. But this can’t be the real reason that NOM-RI opposes the bill, since NOM-RI states that when it comes to the constitutional amendment (S708), it doesn’t care about religious protections: “the inclusion of religious protections is not the reason why NOM-RI supports S0708″.
At first glance it would seem that NOM-RI is taking an enormous risk by favoring Senate action on the constitutional amendment because the possibility exists that after a long, expensive and divisive campaign, voters would approve the measure, making Rhode Island the fourth consecutive state where voters have approved same-sex marriage at the ballot box. And what is more, in this case voters would be elevating marriage equality to a constitutionally guaranteed right, all thanks to NOM.
The constitutional amendment is unlikely to make it through the General Assembly, however. Three of its co-sponsors in the Senate have removed their support from the measure in the past few days (two of them declaring themselves pro-equality votes along the way), making the odds of it passing out of the Senate committee ever more slim. And considering that the House already overwhelmingly passed the marriage equality bill, the constitutional amendment is unlikely to see the light of day there.
To all appearances NOM-RI is cynically pushing an all-but-dead constitutional amendment bill in desperate hope that nobody will notice that they’ve lost confidence in their ability to stop the real deal, the marriage equality bill.