When the East Providence Town Council this week unanimously approved a resolution in support of state legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, it got the play of a minor story. And it was, no doubt, just a small part of a broader push to pass a gay nuptials law in Rhode Island.
But the vote, viewed another way, was of significance.
In recent months, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed has emerged as perhaps the state's leading voice for economic revival.
In January, she announced the release of the "Moving the Needle" report, which focused on ways to improve the state's poor showing in business climate rankings. And last week, she unveiled a package of 25 legislative proposals built on the report's recommendations.
Senator Nick Kettle (R-Coventry), whom I'd previously rated a "lean yes" on same-sex marriage, has gone on the record as a "yes."
Kettle, who hails from a conservative district, tells me he's received phone calls from "thousands" of constituents, including many Catholics who support gay nuptials.
And yet, Kettle is co-sponsoring legislation that would put the question before voters - legislation staunchly opposed by fellow same-sex marriage advocates, who say the majority shouldn't vote on the rights of a minority.
The White House filed a brief yesterday urging the Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on same-sex marriage.
But did the administration also ask the high court to nullify Rhode Island's civil unions law? It certainly looks that way.
The brief argues that California's voter-approved ban is unconstitutional, in part, because it denies gays and lesbians the right to marry while leaving intact many of the substantive benefits of marriage they enjoy through the state's domestic partnership law.
Here's an argument you'll often hear from opponents of same-sex marriage: it's a sideshow, a distraction from the real work of fixing Rhode Island's economy, a concern of a relatively small group of gays, lesbians, and their progressive allies.
But a new Brown University poll provides a challenge to that line of argument.
A new poll commissioned by the National Organization for Marriage finds Rhode Islanders want voters - not legislators - to decide the fate of same-sex marriage by a 74-20 margin.
NOM, of course, opposes gay nuptials. And same-sex marriage supporters will undoubtedly quibble with the way the organization phrased the questions in the survey.
As I wrote in my cover story for last week's Phoenix, the question of religious exemptions could play a central role in the looming same-sex marriage battle in the Rhode Island state senate.
Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed is opposed to gay nuptials. But if she decides to allow the bill through - perhaps in exchange for concessions from openly gay Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on other issues - she'll need some sort of political cover.
My cover story in this week's Phoenix - on-line later today - will take a deep dive into the looming Senate battle over gay marriage.
The piece touches, in part, on the whip count I've developed - a senator-by-senator analysis of where everyone stands on the legislation. I'm offering a sneak preview in this space. (Check out the Providence Journal's partial count, which differs a little from mine, here
Gay marriage advocates have been outspending - and outstaffing - opponents in state after state, of late. And the current fight in Rhode Island looks like no exception.
Providence Journal reporter Phil Marcelo, in a strong Sunday piece on the looming same-sex nuptials fight in the Senate, mentioned a couple of the roving, national talents who are helping gay marriage advocates this winter and spring: Matt McTighe, an activist with Rhode Island ties who ran the successful gay marriage referendum campaign in Maine last fall, and Amy Mello, a Rhode Island native who has served as field coordinator for a series of campaigns around the country.
With same-sex marriage legislation headed to the Senate, there's plenty of speculation about where the chamber's 38 members stand on the issue.
One marker: sponsorship of Senator Frank Ciccone's bill, which asks voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as "a lawful union between one man and one woman."
The Rhode Island House's passage of same-sex marriage legislation by a 51-19 margin - one of the most lopsided pro-gay nuptials votes in an American legislature - has put the smallest state in the headlines for a day. But the Ocean State is not the only site of a same-sex marriage push this year.
Advocates in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Minnesota are also making legislative pushes.
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.
Rhode Island's House Judiciary Committee will vote to send same-sex marriage legislation to the floor in the next couple of hours. And the full chamber is expected to approve the bill by a comfortable margin in the coming days, setting the stage for a battle royale in the state Senate.
There will be many voices vying for attention in the upper chamber: not least of them the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, a group of ministers supporting the legislation, and a still-potent Catholic Church, opposing it.
The House of Representatives is expected to approve a same-sex marriage bill next Thursday, January 24, setting the stage for an intense battle in the senate.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the measure, just posted a vote for Tuesday at 3 pm. The panel is all-but-guaranteed to approve the bill, putting it on course for a vote by the full chamber two days later.