Gay marriage calculus upended?

Until recently, the playbook for same-sex marriage fights around the country was pretty straightforward. Advocates said they were opposed to referenda because the majority shouldn't be able to vote on the rights of a minority. But they were also, clearly, concerned about how they might fare at the ballot box. And for good reason. Until this fall, they'd lost every time. That record - 32-0 - had anti-gay marriage forces pushing for ballot measures whenever they could. The standard playbook is very much in evidence in Rhode Island right now. Advocates remain firmly opposed to a referendum. And Bishop Thomas Tobin, the most prominent opponent, has just called for a popular vote. But he may, in fact, have a better shot at killing the bill in the legislature. The Senate, after all, still looks like reasonably friendly ground for opponents. And polling data shows strong local support for same-sex marriage. Gay nuptials advocates, moreover, have finally demonstrated that they can translate public support into winning campaigns - claiming first-of-their-kind ballot box victories this fall in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. The local battle lines seem unlikely to shift in the coming weeks. But if same-sex marriage fails in the legislature again this session, it's possible to imagine supporters, confident they can win at the polls, and opponents, loathe to take another tough vote in the General Assembly, forming an uneasy alliance around a referendum. I say "possible." Gay marriage advocates may remain convinced they can prevail in the legislature in the next couple of years, particularly if Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, an opponent, steps down. And of course, a US Supreme Court decision could render all the strategizing moot.
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