Maine voters overturned same-sex marriage legislation yesterday in what is, undoubtedly, a blow to the national movement for gay nuptials. And the vote could have some impact in Rhode Island which, until yesterday, was the only New England state that failed to recognize same-sex marriage.
Momentum matters in politics, after all. And Rhode Island's gay rights advocates can no longer say that the state is the lone outlier in an oasis of marriage equality.
But one should not overstate the impact. The Maine result, if disappointing for gay rights advocates, was no great surprise - voters have rejected same-sex marriage in state after state, every time it lands on the ballot.
And, even more important, getting the question on the ballot is harder in Rhode Island than it is elsewhere. Citizen signatures won't do it; the General Assembly must approve the move. And the legislature seems unlikely to go that route. It has shown little appetite for raising the temperature on divisive social issues in recent years. And Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, seems poised to be the next Speaker of the House. Indeed, his rise is cause for hope among same-sex marriage advocates.
That's not to say that marriage equality is a sure thing in the coming years. Rhode Island has lagged behind its neighbors for a reason. The risk-averse politics that is likely to keep the same-sex marriage question off the ballot has also prevented affirmative legislative action on marriage equality.
But if the local movement still faces an uphill climb, the vote in Maine probably doesn't add much to the steepness of the ascent. "It really has nothing to do with us," said Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, in an interview with N4N. "We're going to work our way through the legislature just as we had planned and they're going to do the right thing."