Chafee Says He’ll Sign Rhode Island Bill Legalizing Gay Marriage

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee said he will sign a bill legalizing same sex- marriage as soon as this week, providing an economic boost to the state and a resolution of an issue whose “time had come.”

“There were no deals, no trades,” Chafee, a 60-year-old Republican-turned-independent, said today in an interview at Bloomberg News headquarters in New York. Lawmakers didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history, he said.

The state senate’s passage of same-sex marriage last week marked a signature achievement of Chafee’s tenure. After winning election in 2010, he drew criticism when he broached the subject in his inaugural address. The measure was put to a vote and passed in the face of opposition from Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed three months after the House approved it. A House committee will reconcile some language revisions tomorrow, with a full vote set for the following day, Chafee said.

The governor had argued for the measure using competitiveness as a selling point. Rhode Island was at a disadvantage as the only New England state without gay marriage, he said, citing a correlation between tolerance and economic prosperity.

“Some people think that means florists and weddings, and in fact I don’t mean that at all,” he said. “I mean it in a broader universe of a place that is welcoming to the younger generation, the creative generation, entrepreneurs.”

Uphill Battle

Chafee served as a U.S. senator from 1999 to 2007, when he switched his affiliation to independent, citing the Republican Party’s turn to the right.

He faces an uphill fight to re-election next year, when he probably will face both Republican and Democratic challengers. He acknowledged that his lack of “party apparatus as a natural defense” makes it more difficult and said he’s still evaluating a run as a Democrat.

“Being a solo practitioner, as an independent, I enjoy the status, but the practical realities sometimes are reason to think about options,” he said.

A February poll by Brown University showed Chafee’s approval rating is 26 percent, among the worst for any sitting governor.

He said he’s “fully cognizant” of his approval ratings.

“You do your job and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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