RI Senate Dems formally segregate straight and gay marriages

Rhode Island senators quietly divided gay couples from straight ones in one of their last acts of 2013.

Throughout the year Rhode Island lawmakers always pass “solemnization of marriage” bills, which authorize individuals who aren’t otherwise allowed to do so to perform marriage ceremonies. The marriage approvals must be passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

The chambers also use what are known as “consent calendars” – lists of usually non-controversial bills – that are passed as a group in order to save time. On Wednesday night, Senate leaders used the consent calendar to quarantine the solemnization-of-marriage bills for same-sex couples from those for straight ones.

Consent Calendar #2 contained 11 bills, all of which appeared to authorize marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Consent Calendar #3, by contrast, contained 23 bills – 15 of them allowing marriage ceremonies for straight couples, plus eight bills on other topics passed earlier by the House.

Senate spokesman Greg Pare did not respond to an email asking why the same-sex ceremonies were put on a separate consent calendar, but the Senate’s Democratic leaders have long opposed same-sex marriage, although they bowed to pressure earlier this year and allowed the practice to become law.

The Senate voted 30-0 shortly after 8 p.m. to pass Consent Calendar #3, but then Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, moved on without taking up Consent Calendar #2, leaving the various same-sex couples’ solemnization-of-marriage bills in limbo.

“It’s been brought to my attention we have a consent calendar that we can do,” Paiva Weed said just before 8:30 – but then, rather than vote on the calendar with the same-sex marriages, she briefly ordered the chamber to be at ease. When the senators resumed their work, they took up other bills instead.

Paiva Weed did not tell the Senate why she decided not to move forward with Consent Calendar #2.

“If it’s happening because a small minority continue to oppose a statute being recognized then it’s petty & cheap,” tweeted Ray Sullivan, who led the campaign to pass same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.

A number of the marriage ceremonies on Consent Calendar #2 are scheduled to take place on or shortly after Aug. 1, the first day same-sex wedding ceremonies will be legal in Rhode Island.

All 11 bills for same-sex couples were sponsored by House lawmakers except one, S948, sponsored by Sens. Leonidas Raptakis and Nick Kettle on behalf of Dolores Isabella and Marcia Kaye, who are scheduled to be married Aug. 2 in Coventry. The bill was introduced on May 16 but didn’t pass the Senate Judiciary Committee until Wednesday evening.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Rep. Frank Ferri rose in the House and asked Fox to allow him a “point of personal privilege.” Ferri, who is openly gay and pushed for passage of same-sex marriage, began to make remarks about solemnization-of-marriage bills – but Fox asked him to hold off.

Moments later, at 9:12 p.m., the Senate passed Consent Calendar #2 with no discussion on a 22-2 vote. Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio and Sen. Harold Metts voted against passing the 11 same-sex marriage bills; more than one in three senators – 14 – missed the vote. Paiva Weed and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere voted in favor.

Update: Senate spokesman Greg Pare sent an email minutes after the Senate approved the calendar with the same-sex marriage bills. “As you know, the consent calendar provides one vote on all the bills therein,” he wrote, providing links to the roll-calls. He did not explain why the 11 marriages were segregated.

Update #2: Pare said the 11 same-sex marriage bills should not be described as segregated. “They had to be separated out or voted individually or they couldn’t stay on the consent calendar, because they wanted to vote against them,” he said. “Senators wanted to vote a certain way on those bills.”

Update #3: Rep. Ferri, the openly gay Democrat who was a lead voice on legalizing same-sex marriage, rose in the House shortly after 11 p.m. to criticize Senate leaders for splitting the same-sex solemnization bills.

“It’s really an insult and disrespectful, what happened today in the Senate with the marriage bills,” Ferri said. “There’s solemnization-of-marriage bills that they held for 30 days or more and for whatever reason – we don’t know – but when they came out today and voted on them, they actually segregated the same-sex marriage bills and the non-same-sex marriage bills.”

“I mean, to be treated that way is so disrespectful and inexcusable,” Ferri said. “I’ll just leave it at that. It’s unbelievable.”

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