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Vt. governor visits RI to support gay marriage

By David Klepper
Associated Press / March 31, 2011

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin visited Rhode Island on Thursday to rally support for gay marriage in the Ocean State.

Shumlin joined Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee at the Statehouse in calling on lawmakers to pass legislation extending the rights of marriage to gay couples. As a state senator, Shumlin worked to legalize gay marriage in Vermont in 2009. Shumlin, a Democrat, was elected governor last fall.

Vermont lawmakers first authorized civil unions a decade ago. Shumlin urged Rhode Island to avoid that "half step" and pass a full gay marriage law instead.

"We went halfway, and halfway on civil rights isn't good enough," he said during a joint news conference with Chafee, a longstanding supporter of gay marriage.

The Rhode Island General Assembly has held hearings on the bill but has not yet voted to send it to the full House or Senate.

Shumlin met with legislative leaders to assuage worries about political fallout from a vote for gay marriage. He also told supporters of gay marriage not to be discouraged by the sometimes slow pace of legislation. He praised Chafee for pushing the issue.

"He is going to sleep on the right side of history," Shumlin said.

Chafee, an independent, denied speculation that the gay marriage bill has become a bargaining chip in legislative negotiations on unrelated budget and tax bills.

"The premise that there's a lot of horse trading going on is not accurate," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Chafee used the rare visit from another New England governor to speak with Shumlin about coordinating the state's plans for light rail.

About three dozen opponents to gay marriage held a prayer vigil outside Thursday's press conference. Chris Plante, director of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Organization For Marriage, said he's optimistic the bill may stay bottled up in committee and never make it to a General Assembly vote.

"It's not a done deal that we're even going to have a vote," he told The Associated Press.