On gay marriage and momentum

The Rhode Island House of Representatives will pass a same-sex marriage bill today. And the real fight will be in a closely divided state Senate.

That's the conventional wisdom. And it's just about right. But the significance of today's vote - in its particulars and in its larger impact - should not be underestimated.

Let's start with the particulars. Two years ago, I wrote a piece titled "Will the Catholic Church Kill Gay Marriage?" And the story included a section on House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, who was in a tough bind - torn between loyalty to the Catholic Church and loyalty to openly gay Speaker of the House Gordon Fox.

Insiders expected Mattiello to side with Fox, in the end, if marriage equality came to a vote (it did not). But his anxiety was a potent symbol of the measure's uncertain fate

This year, Mattiello is a co-sponsor of the bill. A definite "yes" vote. He's evolved on the issue. And his story demonstrates, as well as anyone's, how quickly sentiment is shifting.

House leadership is hoping the bigger story - passage of same-sex marriage by what is expected to be a lopsided majority - will be of significance, too, creating some momentum headed into the Senate fight. Some 48 or 49 representatives, out of 75 in the chamber, are expected to vote for the bill. Breaking the 50-vote barrier would be a nice prize for supporters (though a couple of "yes" votes won't be able to attend today's session, making the task a bit tougher).

Today's burst of momentum may dissipate a bit over time. And Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Michael McCaffrey suggested, in an interview with the Providence Journal, that his committee's highly anticipated vote on the matter may be a few months away.

But if the momentum does, indeed, fade, the pressure from advocates on both sides will be unrelenting.


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