Anti-gay marriage group runs TV ad in RI

By Michelle R. Smith
Associated Press / January 13, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—As the prospects for legalizing gay marriage have brightened in the state, with a supportive new governor and House leadership, opponents this week released a TV ad urging against legislative action to pass it.

The ad began running Tuesday on the state's broadcast stations. The anti-gay marriage group National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island said it was paying more than $100,000 for the ad to run for at least a week.

The ad seeks to drum up public opposition to legalizing gay marriage by urging people to call the offices of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed to tell them they have "no mandate to redefine marriage."

"With a governor that has come out in favor of it, with a House of Representatives that is going to be pushing it, their voices need to be heard now," said Chris Plante, executive director of the group.

Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who became an independent in 2007, has been a longtime supporter of gay marriage and used his inaugural address last week to urge lawmakers to swiftly consider and pass a bill legalizing it. He said during his inauguration address he hoped Rhode Island would "catch up to her New England neighbors" on the issue. Such unions are legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, although Republican lawmakers there plan to introduce bills to repeal it.

Heartened by Chafee's support and that of the openly gay Democratic House speaker, and after years of opposition by previous Gov. Don Carcieri, a Republican, lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced legislation a week ago to legalize it in Rhode Island.

Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller said the group was trying to cut off what appears to be strong momentum for gay marriage with the ad.

"It's money well spent, because it gets them into the game," she said. "It gets them onto the agenda. It creates a need to respond by those who want to pass same-sex marriage, and it could generate publicly visible opposition in a way that ... just kills it outright."

But she also objected to some of the content of the ad, which cites a December 2009 poll, paid for by the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, that found 80 percent of the 401 registered voters polled said voters, rather than the General Assembly, should decide whether to legalize gay marriage in the state.

"The idea that voters have no say in this is inaccurate," she said. "Voters vote for the state legislator."

Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which is pushing to legalize gay marriage, said her group supports a vote by lawmakers, rather than a ballot measure, because it is an immediate way to give marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The survey cited in the ad, the results of which were provided to The Associated Press by the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, found 43 percent of those polled favored legalizing same-sex marriage, while 32 percent opposed it. That number was not included in the ad.

The ad also criticizes Chafee for what it says is claiming a mandate to push gay marriage with no vote of the people even though he got only 36 percent of the vote on Election Day. But three of the four major candidates for governor in November's election supported same-sex marriage, representing nearly two-thirds of the vote.

The ad appears to be spurring some people to take action. Chafee spokesman Christian Vareika said that before Tuesday, when the ad started running, the governor's office had fielded about 50 calls a day on the issue, mostly from people who oppose gay marriage. Since Tuesday, that number has approximately doubled to 100 calls a day, from a mix of people who oppose it or want to put it to a popular vote.

Fox's spokesman, Larry Berman, said his office had received about 30 calls, from people saying they would like to vote on the issue. Greg Pare, a spokesman for Paiva Weed, a Democrat and the only one of the three leaders to oppose gay marriage, said her office has received 68 calls, from people saying they want the issue on the ballot.