There are four solid "no" votes, too: McCaffrey, Harold Metts (D-Providence), Leo Raptakis (D-Coventry), and Frank Lombardi (D-Cranston). That leaves freshman Bill Conley, an East Providence Democrat yet to declare his position, in the pole position.

If he sides with proponents, he would give them a 6-4 majority and push the bill onto the floor. If he sides with opponents, the 5-5 vote would effectively kill the legislation — or allow Paiva Weed and Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, who are ex officio members of the committee along with Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, to sweep in and break the tie.

A member or two could also abstain — "take a walk," in Smith Hill parlance — to achieve the desired result.

However Paiva Weed plays the committee vote, you can read it as a pretty good indicator of the bill's final disposition: if same-sex marriage gets out of committee, there is every reason to believe it will pass the full chamber.


Paiva Weed's decision could be shaped, at least in part, by the effectiveness of advocates on either side.

Start with the opposition. The Catholic Church was, perhaps, the single most potent force in spiking same-sex nuptials legislation the last time it came to a head in 2011.

The church tapped parish priests and their flocks to pressure lawmakers. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin called legislators personally. And Reverend Bernard Healey, the church's lobbyist, worked the State House hard.

They're back. Healey is roaming the halls. Tobin has reached out. Senator Nick Kettle (R-Coventry) tells the Phoenix parishioners from one church in his district have passed a single phone around and bombarded him with calls.

The church isn't alone in fighting the bill. A network of urban, evangelical ministers, many Latino, have taken a stronger role in opposing the measure this time around. And the country's leading anti-gay marriage group, the National Organization for Marriage, is on the ground again.

The state's leading gay marriage advocacy group, Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), was riven by internal conflict during the last legislative push. But a coup in the middle of the 2011 campaign empowered a more politically savvy team — a team that remains in place today. And the advocacy effort, this time around, looks stronger.

The locals have enlisted plenty of roving, national talent, including Matt McTighe, who ran last fall's successful gay marriage referendum campaign in Maine, and Amy Mello, a Rhode Islander who has served as field director for campaigns in several states.

Three staffers with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization in the country, have registered as lobbyists with the state. And Freedom to Marry, another national group, has leant social media guru Cameron Tolle to the cause.

MERI campaign director Ray Sullivan says the campaign's energy — dozens of volunteers in the office and spilling out into the hallways at peak times — reminds him of Barack Obama's 2008 Ocean State push.

And same-sex marriage advocates, this time around, can make a reasonably strong argument that a "no" vote will have electoral consequences for legislators. Though activists didn't fare as well they'd hoped in last fall's elections — a high-profile push to oust McCaffrey, the Senate Judiciary chairman, fell short — they did enough to make lawmakers nervous going forward.

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Related: The State vs. the People, Pt. 1, Will the Senate kill gay marriage — again?, In a job-starved economy, casinos are still a good bet, More more >
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