September 6, 2012 at 8:46 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
DNC 2012: R.I. guv says primary race ‘pivotal’ for marriage equality

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks before the Democratic National Committee (Blade photo by Michael Key)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The independent governor of Rhode Island said Tuesday that an upcoming Democratic primary could be key in determining whether the state will pass same-sex marriage legislation next year.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a supporter of marriage equality, told the Washington Blade that a victory on Sept. 11 for  Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian attorney running for state Senate, would be “pivotal” when asked about his expectations for advancing marriage equality.

“There’s a key Senate race in Rhode Island, which is really revolving around this issue, and the head of the committee who overseas marriage equality is having a tough primary race,” Chafee said. “So a week from tonight, we’ll kind of have an indication. A big pro-marriage equality candidate against this committee chair. That’s a pivotal race in Rhode Island that will be an indication.”

Pisaturo is running against State Sen. Michael McCaffrey, another attorney and chair of Rhode Island’s Senate Judiciary Committee. Pending same-sex marriage legislation has never advanced in his committee, even though he’s a Democrat. Last month, McCaffrey said during a TV debate that the committee may not have the votes to move the bill, adding his position is he “believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Chafee added that the election of Pisaturo, who’s been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, would not only remove someone who doesn’t support marriage equality, but be a broader symbolic victory for same-sex marriage.

“It’s a blue collar district,” Chafee said. “It’s representative of Rhode Island. If in that district they elect a pro-marriage equality candidate, it’s going to send a broad, broad message across the state.”

Asked whether it would be smooth sailing for a marriage bill if Pisaturo is elected, Chafee said, “That’s a big one. Because it is the committee chair that’s involved. The woman who’s running is openly gay and talks about her advocacy for marriage equality.”

Political observers expect movement on same-sex marriage legislation in Rhode Island next year. Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who’s gay, said during an interview in June that he would “address” the issue early on during the legislative session.

Additionally, Chafee reaffirmed his opposition to a ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriage known as the Defense of Marriage Act when asked whether he wants to see the anti-gay law lifted from the books. Chafee was among the six governors and five mayors who signed a letter from the Human Rights Campaign urging the Senate to pass legislation to repeal DOMA.

“It’s just way overdue,” Chafee said. “I don’t know how that ever got passed.”

A former Republican who later ran as an independent before becoming governor of Rhode Island, Chafee spoke to the Blade in the Time Warner Cable Arena following remarks he delivered in favor of re-electing President Obama.

The State Senate race on Sept. 11 isn’t the only race of interest in Rhode Island to the LGBT community. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a gay U.S. House member, is facing a primary challenge from businessman Anthony Gemma. A survey published late last month from WPRI-TV found that Cicilline had a 12-point lead over his challenger.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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