The church has distributed fliers on Sundays urging parishioners to call their legislators. Similar appeals have appeared in the diocesan newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic.

The Reverend Bernard Healey, the church’s chief lobbyist, has been working the General Assembly hard. And Tobin’s face-to-face meetings with elected officials have had some impact.

Representative Doreen Costa, a freshman Republican who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, says she was planning to vote the issue out of committee — even though she is personally opposed to same-sex marriage — before Tobin called her in and asked her to vote “no.”

“It’s not every day you get a call from the bishop,” she says.

The church is coordinating its efforts with the local branch of the National Organization for Marriage, which has spent millions fighting same-sex marriage across the country.

Here in Rhode Island, NOM dropped $100,000 on a television ad earlier this year arguing that Chafee — elected with 36 percent of the vote — does not have a mandate to push through same-sex marriage.

And since then, says Christopher Plante, executive director of NOM-RI, his group has targeted 38 members of the House who could decide the vote, flooding their districts with robocalls and mailers.

He pledges similar activity, if necessary, in the upper house.

“Senate members will learn very quickly,” he says, “that Rhode Islanders do not want marriage redefined.”

ChrisPlante_main
THE LOBBYIST Plante, of NOM-RI, has teamed up with the Catholic Church in a vigorous defense of the status quo.


THE CASE

Or they could learn something else entirely.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling has 50 percent of Rhode Islanders favoring gay marriage and 41 percent opposed.

Marc Solomon, a consultant with Freedom to Marry — a national advocacy group that has been providing local activists with tactical advice and fundraising support — notes that not a single Massachusetts legislator who backed same-sex marriage in a pair of pivotal votes in that state lost re-election.

Even in the areas of the Bay State that most look like Rhode Island, he points out — the Catholic and Portuguese precincts of New Bedford and Fall River — voters did not blanche.

“It was the last thing on their minds,” he says.

It does not appear, at the moment, that advocates are making this case well enough to legislators; even some House supporters who have stayed with Fox during the church’s lobbying onslaught fret that a vote for gay marriage could cost them re-election.

But supporters are hoping to reclaim the momentum from the church and other opponents in short order.

Advocates made a strong showing at a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee a couple of weeks ago. And a successful vote there and on the House floor — particularly if the margins are wider than expected — should give supporters a head of steam moving into the Senate.

There, advocates plan to inundate the roughly 15 senators thought to be in play on the issue.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), the leading force for same-sex marriage in the state, has already delivered more than 25,000 postcards to members of the General Assembly.

Massachusetts gay marriage advocate MassEquality has organized phone banks, prodding Rhode Island supporters to contact their legislators. And the group has built a “Call for MERI” widget on Marriage Equality Rhode Island’s web site that allows supporters to sign up and phone bank from home.

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