Algiere, Bates join RI Senate GOP bloc in backing bill favored by same-sex marriage supporters

Apr 23, 2013

All five Republicans in the 38-member Rhode Island Senate - including Minority Leader Dennis Algiere of Westerly - plan to support the same-sex marriage bill backed by supporters of the issue, RIPR has learned.

Algiere and Senator David Bates of Barrington plan to announce their support Tuesday morning for S 38, the bill introduced by Senator Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket). The three other GOP senators - Dawson Hodgson of North Kingstown, Nicholas Kettle of Coventry, and Christopher Ottiano of Portsmouth -- have already expressed their support for the Nesselbush bill. They call their support consistent with the Republican values of freedom and small government.

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island is gaining momentum among Republicans.
Credit Kristin Gourlay/RIPR

The unanimous support among Senate Republicans reflects how GOP lawmakers are not uncommonly more socially liberal than the Democrats who control the General Assembly. It is also reportedly marks the first unanimous backing from a partisan legislative caucus in the US for same-sex marriage.

Algiere has been the subject of an active lobbying campaign by the two leading advocacy groups on each side of the issue, the National Organization for Marriage's RI chapter and Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, as David Pepin recently described in the Westerly Sun.

Calling the upcoming vote “one of the top five” he’s faced in terms of lobbying intensity over his 21 years in the Senate, [Algiere] said he has been bombarded by phone and email messages from both sides of the issue in the nearly three months since the House approved same-sex marriage, with strong backing from Speaker Gordon Fox and his leadership team, by a 51-19 vote.

“I’m getting a lot of messages, about 100-plus phone calls and 100-plus emails each day. Some days, it’s been a few hundred,” he said, adding that the totals don’t tilt strongly in favor of either side.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to vote on competing same-sex marriage bills, including one that would make legalizing it subject to a statewide vote, at 3 Tuesday afternoon. Hodgson is the only Republican member of the 10-member committee, although Algiere is an ex officio member.

UPDATE: GOP Caucus statement:

Here's the statement released by the caucus Tuesday morning:

Our Senate Republican Caucus is deeply committed to the values of freedom, liberty and limited government.   In accordance with those values, we believe that freedom means freedom for everyone, and that every citizen of Rhode Island deserves the freedom to marry the person they love.   

We support Senate Bill 38 because it rightfully extends the civil aspects of marriage to all Rhode Islanders while protecting the freedom of religion our state was founded upon.  Gay and lesbian couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, and at the same time churches, synagogues and mosques in our state must be free to exercise their faith and their sacraments as they see fit.  This bill strikes the right balance and should be passed by the Senate. 

We recognize that there is a national consensus building on this generational issue, and we are glad that support for the freedom to marry is growing within the Republican Party.  Today we join the 209 other Republican state legislators across America who have stood up for the freedom to marry.  As a united Senate Republican Caucus, we are proud to add our voices to reaffirm the principles of freedom and equality under the law.

Rhode Island Senate Republican Caucus

Senator Dennis Algiere

Senator David Bates

Senator Dawson Hodgson

Senator Nicholas Kettle

Senator Chris Ottiano

*Note: The Rhode Island Senate GOP Caucus the first legislative caucus of either political party in any state to unanimously support the freedom to marry.