The Same-Sex Marriage Primary

As I reported in a Phoenix cover story a few weeks ago, the fate of Rhode Island's gay marriage bill could very well be determined by this fall's state senate elections. Advocates will need to pick up about a half-dozen seats in the 38-member chamber - no small task - if they're to have a real shot in the next legislative session.

The primary election is tomorrow, if you haven't heard. And given the Democrats' stranglehold on power in this state, winning intra-party fights on the Democratic side - between pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage candidates - will be critical.

Here are some of the races to keep an eye on:

Two-term Democratic Senator Michael Pinga of West Warwick, a gay marriage opponent who won a close primary fight in 2010, faces an energetic same-sex nuptials supporter in Adam Satchell.

State Representative Roberto DaSilva, who backs same-sex marriage, is challenging state Senator Daniel DaPonte, an East Providence Democrat who has said he supports a "form of" gay nuptials. He talks of making all marriages "civil." But gay marriage advocates seem skeptical of his support.

Ryan Pearson, a gay marriage supporter whom advocates consider a strong potential challenger to Republican state Senator Bethany Moura, who opposes gay nuptials, has to get through a primary first.

Lewis Pryeor, a same-sex nuptials supporter, is taking on Senator Marc Cote, an eight-term Democrat who represents Woonsocket and North Smithfield and opposes gay marriage. Cote ran unopposed in 2010.

Senator Bea Lanzi, a Cranston Democrat, is retiring. Gay marriage advocates considered her a "yes" vote and are hoping to hold onto the seat. Frank Lombardi, a charismatic school committee member who opposes same-sex nuptials, is facing off against Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, a liberal pastor with the United Church of Christ who supports gay marriage.

Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer who backs same-sex nuptals, is facing off against Senator Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who opposes gay marriage and holds a critical post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the same-sex marriage bill. McCaffrey's re-election could have long-term ramifications since he is considered a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.

Gay marriage advocates are lining up behind David Gorman, a union official with strong labor support, who is squaring off against former State Senator Leo Raptakis, a gay marriage opponent, for the right to take on incumbent Republican state Senator Glenford Shibley, who opposes same-sex nuptials.

People for Rhode Island's Future, a new gay marriage advocacy group funded by Colorado technology magnate Tim Gill and Boston literary agent Esmond Harmsworth, has thrown last-minute money behind all of the same-sex marriage candidates listed above, with the exception of Pearson, who is considered the likely nominee.

In fact, Pearson is probably the only pro-gay marriage candidate of the bunch who could be considered a clear favorite. And a couple of the candidates, even if they are able to win their primary fights, will have to take down Republican incumbents come November.

It is a narrow path to victory for advocates.




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