Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed’s carefully orchestrated announcement Monday that the Senate Judiciary Committee will call a vote on gay marriage if a bill passes the House shakes up the political dynamic on the issue. But while proponents cheered the Senate president – who remains personally opposed to same-sex nuptials – there’s still no guarantee they’ll win their fight in 2013.
First, a marriage bill has to pass the House – which probably won’t be a problem, considering supporters have long been confident they have enough votes in the lower chamber and House Speaker Gordon Fox has already said he’ll call a vote by the end of next month.
Then the debate would move to the Senate, specifically the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first big question is, who’ll be appointed to that committee when the new Senate convenes in January? The panel’s membership could decide whether the marriage bill has enough votes to move to the floor.
Senate Judiciary currently has 10 members, two of whom won’t be back in January: Democrat Rhoda Perry, a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage, and Republican Glen Shibley, an opponent. Chairman Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat, announced on “Newsmakers” earlier this year he wouldn’t block a committee vote on the issue, but like Paiva Weed he remains personally opposed to gay marriage.
Among the other seven, Ian Donnis reports there are three likely no votes (Maryellen Goodwin, Harold Metts, William Walaska) and three likely yes votes (Dawson Hodgson, Eric Lynch, Donna Nesselbush). The eighth returning member, Paul Jabour, told constituents he opposes gay marriage but might vote for it anyway.
Just getting a bill out of committee, then, could be a challenge for same-sex marriage supporters. They need six votes in favor if all committee members are present and voting (some could take a walk and not cast a vote at all) but they start with only three. Getting two supporters appointed to the panel, and pushing Jabour to a yes, would give them enough – but there’s no guarantee who’ll be on the committee on January.
And even if they’re successful in committee, same-sex marriage supporters need to get the bill to the floor of the Senate and then convince as many as 19 senators to vote in favor of it. It’s safe to say there will be a lot of vote-counting on this issue happening in the upper chamber next year. Indeed, one reason for opponents like Paiva Weed and McCaffrey to allow a vote is to change the discussion from whether they’re blocking a vote to whether same-sex marriage’s proponents can muster adequate support.