Gay Marriage Debate at the Statehouse: A Preview
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Location and time: The hearing will be held at approximately 4:30 p.m. today in Room 313 of the Statehouse. If you can’t make it, tune into Cox channel 15 or Verizon channel 34 and watch it live on Capitol TV.
What the bills would do
One bill, 2011-H 5012, would legalize gay marriage. It would change the existing law on marriage by removing gender-specific language, allowing any person to marry any other eligible person regardless of gender, according to an official description of the bill.
The competing bill, 2011-H 5260, would kick the issue out of the Statehouse and onto a ballot referendum. It would ask voters in the 2012 election to approve or deny a constitutional amendment declaring that only marriage “between a man and a woman” is legal in Rhode Island.
How would churches be affected? The bill also exempts religious institutions from having to perform gay marriages.
However, Chris Plante, the executive director of the state chapter for the National Organization for Marriage, says he’s concerned that there is no such exemption for schools, doctors, wedding photographers, and marriage counselors who oppose gay marriage.
Arguments against gay marriage
Not a civil right: Plante says throughout history governments, including the United States, have always regulated marriage and never recognized that anyone has a fundamental right to marry whomever they love. He also says the jury is out on whether homosexuality is genetic or a choice—saying it should not be compared to race or gender. “The idea that this is a civil rights issue is patently false,” Plante said.
Voters deserve a say: If voters get to have a direct say on ports, casinos, and changing the state name—all topics of past ballot referendums—Plante says they deserve a say on gay marriage too. “If we’re going to mess with marriage, it better be by a vote of the people,” he said. “This is too important to be left to the General Assembly.”
… and for it
Marriage is about love: “Simply put, marriage is about loving, committed couples who want to make a lifelong promise to take care of and be responsible for each other,” Kushnir said. “To deny these folks the security and legal protections of marriage hurts them; this issue is about basic fairness for all families.”
How it has a real impact on gay couples: “There are hundreds of Rhode Island laws in which marriage is factor. There’s just no substitute for the automatic legal protections marriage provides. And there is no substitute for the social power of a marriage certificate in affirming the couple’s common humanity and equality,” Kushnir said. “No other legal document can require your employer to let you go home to take care of your sick partner, for instance, or make a nursing home give you a room with your partner of 50 years, or provide a financial safety net when a working spouse is injured or killed.”
Why the referendum is not the way to go: “Sending issues of fundamental human rights for Rhode Island families to a popular vote, where it is very easy for majorities to give short shrift to minorities, is wrong. In our democracy, we don’t put the rights of a minority group up for a vote,” Kushnir said.
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