PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - House Speaker Gordon Fox says he will call a vote next year on legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.
"I'm calling the vote," Fox, D-Providence, said Friday morning during a taping of WPRI 12's Newsmakers. He added: "It's one of those issues that I need to come back, we need to address, and I intend if I'm elected speaker to address it early."
Fox, who announced this week he'll seek another term leading the House of Representatives in January, has been criticized by same-sex marriage advocates for declining to force a roll-call vote on the issue despite the widespread belief there are enough votes to pass it in the House.
"It's one of the main reasons I'm coming back," Fox, who is openly gay, said on the program. "There's unfinished business." Fox was first elected to the House in 1992 and succeeded William Murphy as speaker in February 2010.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, opposes legalizing same-sex marriage, as do other Democrats in her leadership team. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent who supports gay marriage, signed a law last year allowing gay couples to enter into civil unions, but few people have taken advantage of it.
Ray Sullivan, campaign director for the advocacy group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, hailed the announcement by Fox. "Under Speaker Fox and Governor Chafee's leadership, all eyes will turn to the Senate, where there is a wide coalition working to ensure that a pro-equality majority is elected," Sullivan said.
"Every day, we strive to make 2013 the year in which all loving, committed couples are finally recognized, respected and treated equally under the law," Sullivan added.
A survey last year by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-affiliated firm in North Carolina, showed 50% of Rhode Island voters support legalizing gay marriage, with support heaviest among Democrats and young people and opposition strongest among Republicans and senior citizens.
Fox said his political strategy was to legalize civil unions first to ensure same-sex couples had rights such as hospital visitation regardless of the outcome of a vote on marriage itself, but now the time has come to force the issue on Smith Hill.
"I never believed civil unions was a replacement for full marriage equality," Fox said.
Asked why he now intends to call a vote on same-sex marriage when he hasn't in the past and the Senate may still be resistant, Fox said it's a "different situation because we have the backstop [of civil unions] now."
The full episode of Newsmakers airs Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. The program and a bonus interview segment will also be posted on WPRI.com.
Tim White contributed to this report.
Copyright WPRI 12
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