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Gay House Speaker in Tough Re-election Fight

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Tuesday Oct 23, 2012
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Rhode Island is in the middle of a contentious struggle for marriage equality, and the results of the Nov. 6 election could decide whether this legislation comes up for a vote. In a twist, an Independent candidate accuses the gay House Speaker of not working hard enough, and a gay Republican challenges a Democratic State Senator on his anti-gay and anti-marriage equality stance.

Gay Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) is engaged in a tough fight for re-election. The passage of a marriage equality bill could be severely impacted if Fox is defeated on November 6.

Fox’s challenger in District 4, Mark Binder, an Independent who supports same-sex marriage, has criticized Fox for not doing more to push for a vote on marriage equality. There is no Republican in the race.

Fox surprised many LGBT activists in 2011 when he announced the House would vote on a civil unions bill instead of a marriage equality bill. Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the civil unions bill into law in July 2011.

"Civil unions are not enough," Binder wrote in a blog post on RI Future, a liberal web site. "Maybe when Fox made his great compromise he thought that they were. If so, why have only 68 couples opted for the watered-down civil union option in the past two years? Since then Fox has promised to pass marriage equality but continued to duck his responsibility and avoid wielding his power to bring this black and white issue to a vote."

Fox has vowed to call for a vote on a marriage equality bill when the next legislative session begins in January. He has also vowed to pressure key leaders of the State Senate who have blocked passage of the bill in the past. Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport) opposes marriage equality but supports civil unions.

"Fox is going to lose this race and I am going to put marriage equality up for a vote," Binder told EDGE.

But Fight Back RI, the Political Action Committee for Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), has endorsed Fox.

"The Speaker has given his word that he would help pass marriage and that begins with calling a vote," said MERI’s Campaign Director Ray Sullivan. "If Rep. Fox is reelected to his House seat and then again as Speaker, he will be in a much better position to help advance the civil rights of thousands of gay and lesbian couples than any new legislator ever could be."

Fox is the first openly gay House Speaker in Rhode Island. Fox, 50, was elected to the state legislature in 1992 and has been Majority Leader since 2003. An attorney, Fox is a graduate of Providence College, Rhode Island College and Northeastern Law School.


Binder Engaged in Cheap Smear Tactics, Says Fox

Binder is the author of several children’s books. He has also worked for many social service organizations, including AIDS Project Rhode Island, Traveler’s Aid, and The Apeiron Center for Sustainable Living. In 2004, Binder ran for Congress against then incumbent Patrick Kennedy. Although he failed to unseat Kennedy, Binder garnered a total of over 7,000 votes statewide on a miniscule campaign budget.

According to Binder, Fox accepted campaign contributions from interests who had a stake in legislation he had either already voted on or was about to put up for a vote. Bill Fischer, Fox’s campaign spokesperson, disavowed Binder’s allegations.

"For the past several weeks, Mr. Binder has utilized smear campaign tactics and offered a litany of false accusations without providing solutions or substantive ideas to the residents of District 4," Fischer said via e-mail. "Mr. Binder’s campaign is simply a disservice to the voters."

Binder said he would bring integrity to the General Assembly.

"I’m interested in changing the system," Binder said. "The system is not going to change unless people stand up to the people who abuse their power."


Gay Republican Russ Hryzan Challenges Anti-Gay Democratic Sen. Harold Metts

Calling him one of the most anti-gay legislators in the Rhode Island General Assembly, Republican Russ Hryzan is challenging veteran State Senator Harold Metts (D-Providence). Metts has been notable for his vehement opposition to marriage equality and LGBT rights. Hryzan, who is gay, supports marriage equality.

Hryzan, 31, works for Pfizer Global Research and Development in Connecticut, where he serves as a Global IT Program manager. He grew up in Jamestown but moved to Providence 10 years ago, drawn by the diversity of the population in the city and its vibrant culture. But he is also concerned about the city’s high unemployment rate and foreclosures.

"I tell people we’ve had some good years in this city not too far back but now all of a sudden for the last decade things have been on the rapid decline," Hryzan said. "When things were good, we had people with good ideas running the show, and now we have the same people who are our legislators making bad decisions year after year after year."

Hryzan vowed to be more in touch with the constituents in District 6, which comprises South Providence, saying that this is one thing that separates him and his opponent.

"I have been out and about non-stop and I haven’t seen Metts anywhere," Hryzan said. "He only visits high-rises, he doesn’t go door to door, to single-family houses. I’ve seen some kind of shoddily put together flyers loaded with typos about his appearances at senior high-rises, but that’s about the only thing I’ve seen of his campaign."

Being a Gay Republican has brought its own set of challenges. Hryzan notes the LGBT community has offered only superficial encouragement about his candidacy.

"In the end, I don’t really feel there’s a strong amount of support at all. Not from activist groups, not from the community as a whole," said Hryzan. "I haven’t gotten anywhere near the kind of support I would have gotten if I had a D next to my name instead of an R.".

MERI has endorsed Hryzan for his pro-marriage equality stance, and Hryzan vows he will work with Democrats to pass legislation.

"There are plenty of people who don’t want the state to fail. I have no problem working with anybody, regardless of political party," said Hryzan. "It’s the actions you take when you’re up there that make all the difference."


Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

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