The protests started as soon as Rhode Island's openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox voted down gay marriage legislation and said he'd back civil unions instead. A cop-out, gay marriage supporters said. A compromise for no one. One man made a sign proclaiming, "Fox Hunting Season is Open."
"These folks were looking for a champion," Fox, a Providence Democrat, told The Associated Press. "It hurts me to think that I'm not quite their champion at this point. That bothers me.
Because so many people were waiting for so long ... but you have to be able to move votes."
Gay rights advocates had hoped Fox would help them make this the year that Rhode Island legalized same-sex marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa.
Fox became speaker last year, and newly elected Gov. Lincoln Chafee is a longtime supporter who called on lawmakers to pass gay marriage in his inaugural address. But those hopes faded with Fox's announcement late last month. Many supporters of the measure felt betrayed, saying civil unions treat gay couples as second-class citizens.
"In my opinion he's a self-loathing homophobe," said Gary D'Amario of Cranston, who attended a rally at the Statehouse called after Fox made his decision.
"What was Speaker Fox thinking?" asked the Rev. Duane Clinker of Providence's Open Table of Christ United Methodist Church, a supporter of gay marriage. "I think he forgot he had friends."
Fox said the criticism has stung. But he chalks it up to disappointment and years of frustration.
"I believe they have a higher expectation of me," Fox said, because of his sexual orientation. "I think it's also people that want this badly, that may not understand the process as much. ...
When they say `Oh we've now got a gay speaker of the House, now anything is possible.'"