Elections matter. And on Tuesday, Rhode Island's Democratic primary did not go well for the state's same-sex marriage advocates.
Ground zero for the gay nuptials fight is the 38-member state senate where, a Phoenix analysis shows, about half the chamber is opposed to same-sex marriage, one-third is in favor, and the balance is in the toss-up category (see "Will the Senate Kill Gay Marriage — Again?," 8.10.12).
Advocates probably have to pick up a half-dozen seats in the senate this fall to have a real shot at passing a bill next year. And in a state dominated by Democrats, performing well in the party's primary was crucial.
But after the polls closed, activists could claim just one victory in the half-dozen most watched races.
It wasn't for lack of effort. The state's leading advocacy group, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, made endorsements and worked to get out the vote in a series of key districts through its political arm.
And Tim Gill, a reclusive Colorado technology magnate who has been investing in state-level races across the country for several years now in a bid to tip the balance on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues, made a long-awaited play in Rhode Island politics.
He plunked down $20,000 this month for a new group, People for Rhode Island's Future, that backed six pro-gay marriage candidates in the Senate primaries. And he gave $15,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes! Rhode Island, which supported two of the same candidates.
The results were disappointing. One of the candidates, Adam Satchell, beat incumbent Senator Michael Pinga, a West Warwick Democrat who opposes gay nuptials. But the other five candidates that People for Rhode Island's Future backed — Laura Pisaturo, Roberto DaSilva, Lewis Pryeor, David Gorman, and Gene Dyszlewski — all lost, some of them handily.
Pisaturo's race was particularly disappointing for advocates. The lesbian lawyer was challenging Senator Michael McCaffrey, a veteran lawmaker from Warwick who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has jurisdiction over gay marriage legislation.
Toppling a committee chairman who opposes same-sex nuptials and is viewed as a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed would have had practical implications, of course.
But the race against a key member of the senate hierarchy had taken on symbolic importance, too. If Pisaturo had won, same-sex marriage advocates could have claimed a big victory on an otherwise disappointing night. In the end, McCaffrey edged Pisaturo 53-47.
Still, advocates established themselves as players in state politics — if not quite as powerful as they'd like.
And Ray Sullivan, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, insists the fight is not over. Activists are hoping that Democrat Ryan Pearson can topple Cumberland Senator Bethany Moura, a vulnerable Republican who opposes same-sex nuptials, in November.
And Sullivan cited three other Democratic candidates who could bolster the "yes" vote in the senate if elected in two months time. There is, he says, still a path to a majority in the senate.
But after the primary, it is undoubtedly a narrow one.
The marquee Democratic primary race, pitting Congressman David Cicilline against businessman Anthony Gemma, proved anticlimactic.
Cicilline trounced Gemma, with 62 percent of the vote to his opponent's 30 percent. The maddening thing, for Gemma's supporters, is that he easily could have run a more effective race against the vulnerable incumbent.