Quick question: who won the Rhode Island elections in November?
WINDS OF CHANGE Chafee's election will shift the dynamic on same-sex marriage.
Hardly a stumper, you say: Lincoln Chafee is the new governor and David Cicilline is headed to Congress. Yes, yes. But you get only partial credit for that answer, I'm afraid.
The real winners and losers are not individual politicians, but the interests that will be served — or ignored — under the new regime. And like it or not, dear reader, you are a part of one interest group or another.
So with the governor-elect set to move into the corner office, the General Assembly gearing up for a new session, and the state's Congressional election facing a divided Washington, the Phoenix asks:
Did you win in November or did you lose?
Well, if you're gay, lesbian, or just believe in equal access to badly carpeted wedding halls, you won in November. Governor-elect Chafee is a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and his victory eliminates the biggest stumbling block to approval: the gubernatorial veto.
Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, has signaled that he will press ahead and is expected to command a broad majority in his chamber — on the order of two-to-one.
But passage is not a fait accompli. The Catholic Church, which can still flex some political muscle, is making a concerted push to block gay marriage. And Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed is opposed, favoring civil unions or domestic partnerships instead.
Proponents of the measure say Paiva Weed has been more than willing to sit down and chat. But there is some concern that she will bottle up the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by gay marriage opponent Michael J. McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat.
One observer says advocates will have to make the case to Paiva Weed that the Senate leadership — rather than a relatively obscure committee chairman — will be held accountable if the bill doesn't make it to the floor.
Same-sex marriage proponents are planning a strong lobbying effort and they've got solid public support — 59 percent of Rhode Islanders are in favor and just 31 percent are opposed, according to a poll commissioned by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) this past summer.
It says here that supporters prevail, in the end. Chafee's election has shifted the political dynamic considerably. And Rhode Island is one of just two New England states that do not allow same-sex marriage.
The legislature in the other state, Maine, actually approved gay nuptials only to have voters overturn the law. But undoing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island would be nearly impossible, since the Assembly must sign off on any measure that would go before voters.
Organized labor had a good fall. In the Democratic primaries in September, union activists played a central role in the ouster of four opponents in the legislature, including Representative Doug Gablinske, who once compared public employee unions to "pigs at the public trough." Two months later, the gubernatorial candidate with the strongest labor backing, Chafee, eked out a victory.