Shumlin Takes Gay Marriage Message To Rhode Island

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(Host) Governor Peter Shumlin will travel to Rhode Island later this week to lend his support to an effort there to pass a same sex marriage law.

Shumlin says his message is simple – it’s the right thing to do, and there’s not a lot of political fall out from supporting the legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) As Senate President, Shumlin played a key role in the passage of Vermont’s same sex marriage law during the 2009 session.  It’s a bill that became law when the Legislature overrode Governor Jim Douglas’s veto.

Shumlin says he wants lawmakers in Rhode Island to understand that, while there may vocal opposition to their bill, there’s also a lot of strong support for the measure.

(Shumlin) "I just want to go down and add my voice, tell about our experience, just let them know that at least in Vermont’s case not only can you do the right thing, not only can you have your state be a place where you treat everybody with the dignity and equality that they should expect, but that there isn’t political fall out and frankly a lot of people appreciate you for having the courage to stand up."

(Kinzel) When Vermont passed a Civil Union law a decade ago, several lawmakers who voted for the bill were defeated in the next election. Shumlin says the debate in 2009 shows how far Vermont has come in just ten years.

(Shumlin) "I think the message from Vermont is simply ‘we’re not here to tell you what to do but we are here to tell you what happened when we did it and there’s nothing to fear but fear itself’."

(Kinzel) Scott MacKay is a former reporter for the Burlington Free Press and is now a political analyst at public radio station WRNI in Providence.

He says the election of Independent Governor Lincoln Chaffee last November has given new life to same sex marriage bill.

(MacKay) "He is very supportive of gay marriage. The previous governor for 8 years, was a man named Don Carieri, a very conservative  Republican, who was anti abortion, anti gay marriage and had very sort of "red state" views on social issues. So the landscape has changed with a new governor coming in and that has given some impetus to a renewed campaign on behalf of gay marriage."

(Kinzel) And MacKay says, after a slow start, the advocates of same sex marriage are starting to build some momentum on this issue.

(MacKay) "They have put together some public relations people and now again they’re bringing the governor of Vermont in here to try to sway public opinion and also try to  convince legislators that really this is the right thing to do and it’s not going to hurt you  politically if you do it."

(Kinzel) MacKay says it’s likely that the Rhode Island House will vote in favor of the same sex marriage bill but he says the outlook in the Senate is uncertain at this time.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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