Apparently there are some legislators in the Republican Party who are willing to put themselves on the right side of history. On Tuesday, the entire Republican caucus of the Rhode Island State Senate took a momentous step in the history of the Rhode Island Republican state party. The five member strong caucus universally agreed to support a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Rhode Island is the only state in New England to not have legalized same-sex marriage; Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire have all legalized same-sex marriage. While it is only one Republican state delegation, and a small one at that, this stance shows that there are some in the Republican Party who see a need to take new positions for a changing electorate.
The Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill has already cleared the Rhode Island House of Representatives in a 51-19 vote and the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-4. The full Senate will vote it upon Wednesday. Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) could sign the bill by the end of the month depending upon how fast things it moves through the legislature.
The national Republican Party remains fully opposed to same-sex marriage. Earlier in April, the Republican National Committee passed resolutions that restated the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage. This came after 13 social conservative groups sent a joint letter threatening to abandon the Republican Party if they did not hold firm on their stance on social issues.
Already the decision of the Rhode Island Republican Senate Caucus has drawn the ire of social conservative activists. Christopher Plante, regional director for the anti same-sex marriage organization National Organization for Marriage, said of Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R), “If he ends up voting ‘yes,’ we will do what we can to unseat him. He will have broken with the Republican Party, and he will have also broken with the people who have elected him.”The Rhode Island Republican Party has not released a statement on the actions of the caucus. Several Republican and Democratic Representatives voted against same-sex marriage in the earlier vote on the House vote.
The Rhode Island Senate Republican caucus released a statement on their decision. It states, "Our Senate Republican Caucus is deeply committed to the values of freedom, liberty and limited government. In accordance with those values, we believe that freedom means freedom for everyone, and that every citizen of Rhode Island deserves the freedom to marry the person they love."
The Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University conducted a poll in February of 2013 that found that 60.4% of voters of Rhode Island support same-sex marriage, while 26% of voters were opposed. Nationally a CBS News poll conducted in March of 2013 found that 53% of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legalized. 39% were opposed to legalization.
The Rhode Island Senate Republican caucus's stance represents the latest in a small but slowly growing number of Republican politicians yielding to public opinion on the issue. Senator Ron Portman (R-Ohio) changed his stance on same-sex marriage in March, causing a backlash against him from conservative voters. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) endorsed same-sex marriage in April.
Time will tell if this represents a growing stance shift in the Republican Party, or if the powerful religious social conservative faction of the party’s coalition will keep the Republicans from changing on the issue as a whole