Tim Gill, a publicity-shy Colorado technology magnate at the center of the national lobby, has donated thousands to Rhode Island candidates and is paying $9000 per month this legislative session for two of the state's top lobbyists, Rick McAuliffe and Jeffrey Taylor of the Mayforth Group.

The hope is that local advocates can keep Gill and his circle of donors engaged as the 2012 elections approach. One argument they will make: Rhode Island's size means a small investment can go a long way.

But even with a well-funded, well-organized campaign, no one thinks the main pillar of opposition to gay marriage — Senate President Paiva Weed — is all that vulnerable. And absent a substantial shift in the membership beneath her, it is hard to imagine the political prospects for a same-sex marriage bill improving markedly in, say, 2013.

Of course, the General Assembly isn't the only route to gay nuptials. With a civil unions law on the books, advocates could go to court and argue that it is not enough — that a two-tiered system is, inherently, discriminatory.

That strategy worked in Connecticut. And it worked in California, until voters overturned that state's court decision in a subsequent ballot initiative. Indeed, Christopher Plante, executive director of NOM-RI, says same-sex marriage by judicial decree is among his biggest worries now.

But Loewy, the staff attorney with GLAD, says she's a bit hesitant to go the legal route. The Rhode Island courts have minimal experience with gay rights cases, she says. And while the high courts in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut have a reputation for reading their state constitutions in robust fashion — finding a right to gay marriage in those documents, for instance — the Rhode Island Supreme Court has engaged in a more conservative jurisprudence.

That brings advocates back to the legislature. And it could be some time before that body acts. But it will in time, advocates say. Popular opinion, after all, is increasingly on the side of gay nuptials.

Nationally, the trend is clear. Support is building. And young people are embracing same-sex marriage with particular zeal; even a quarter of youthful evangelicals back gay nuptials.

There are similar trends in Rhode Island.

The Public Policy Polling survey found 62 percent of the state's 18- to-29-year-olds in favor of a gay marriage law and just 31 percent opposed.

And a July 2010 poll commissioned by GLAD found strong support among Rhode Island Catholics, with 57 percent backing gay marriage.

"Marriage equality," says Segal, the former state representative, "is one of the few realms in which the left is pretty clearly winning in the long run."

The only trouble is, the "long run" can seem awfully long.

David Scharfenberg can be reached atdscharfenberg@phx.com.

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