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Gay Marriage Opponents, Supporters Face Off

Monday, July 19, 2010

 

The culture war exploded onto the steps of the Statehouse Sunday as opponents and supporters of gay marriage faced off over the issue at dueling rallies. 

The National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, stopped in Rhode Island to rally an estimated 200 to 250 advocates of traditional marriage to vote for state lawmakers in the November election who share their views. But what they met was an angry crowd of gay and lesbian activists who heckled and screamed at speakers who accused them of wanting to destroy the institution of marriage.

“The advocates of same-sex marriage only have one argument,” said Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, a scholar at the Ruth Institute in San Diego, California. “They only have one argument. Their argument is ‘It’s not fair. They’re being mean to us, they’re hurting our feelings. We demand equality.’ That’s all they got.”

As Morse spoke, a sea of about 150 red-shirted gay activists—symbolizing love—gathered less than a hundred feet away. Shaking empty bottles filled with beans, they chanted, “Get your hate out of our state!” and “2, 4, 6, 8, how do you know your kid is straight?”

“This is the face of intolerance!” bellowed NOM Executive Director Brian Brown from the podium. “Will we be silenced?! Will we be silenced?!”

Protestors on both sides of the issue claimed that their rights were being taken away—a message mostly delivered by shouting. While activists Queer Action of Rhode Island said their right to equality was being denied, speakers at the NOM rally said they were being deprived of their freedom of speech.

“No one can take those civil rights away,” Brown said. “The moment that we allow activist judges, out-of-control legislatures, or activists that come to our rally and try to silence us—the moment we allow them to silence us is the moment our civil rights have been taken away.”

Invoking everyone from Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr., and everything from religion to science, speakers at the rally tried to make their point that gay marriage was bad for children and harmful to society.

“All of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Islam, Christianity—say it is wrong,” said Scott Spear, a member of the advisory board for the state chapter of NOM. “Billions and billions and billions of people from the beginning of time based upon religious principles have believed this is wrong.”

“There is an essential public purpose to marriage and the essential public purpose of marriage is to attach mothers and fathers to their children and to each other,” Morse said. She said that adoption does not undermine this principle.

After the rally, the executive director of NOM Rhode Island, Chris Plante, said gay activists had made the argument for his side better than speakers at his rally.

“They came over and were trying to call us intolerant, hateful, bigoted. It’s everything they were,” Plante said. “What they showed Rhode Islanders was if you stand on a street corner and say you believe marriage is between a man and a woman, you deserve to be shouted down.”

But Susan Heroux, a spokeswoman for Queer Action, said the protest had been peaceful and did not prevent Plante and his group from holding their event. “I think the reality is that they did their whole speeches. We didn’t go and take their podium,” Heroux said. “I think we should stand up when discrimination is on display at our Statehouse.”

The rally was part of the “One Man, One Woman” tour NOM is organizing at battleground states across the country. Similar events have already been held in Augusta, Maine, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Albany, New York.

Is Gay Marriage on Its Way to RI?

Plante said the rally was held to warn socially conservative voters that if liberal legislators were elected to the General Assembly in November, they might pass gay marriage in the next session.

That is indeed a possibility, according to Larry Berman, a spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay and has supported gay marriage legislation in the past. Berman said the issue did not come to the forefront in the current session because Fox thought lawmakers should focus on passing an education funding formula, dealing with the budget deficit, and addressing other economic issues.

Moreover, Gov. Don Carcieri has publicly opposed gay marriage. “This year, he didn’t feel it was time to push it with the governor opposed to it,” Berman said. “He thought maybe next year would be a better time.”

Next year, there is a good chance the new governor would be more sympathetic to gay marriage proponents. Currently, the two leading candidates—independent Lincoln Chafee and Democrat Frank Caprio—have both said they would sign gay marriage legislation.

But whether such a bill actually passes under Fox's leadership is not a certainty. “Come January, if he should be fortunate to be re-elected Speaker he will address the issue,” Berman said. “He would assess what the make-up of the Assembly is at that time.”

If there are sufficient numbers of lawmakers who would back the bill, Berman said Fox would “strongly consider” pushing it then.

Meanwhile, on Friday, another group of gay activists announced the formation of the Rhode Island Marriage Equality Coalition which promised to fight for a gay marriage bill in 2011. The coalition held a separate rally at the Statehouse on Friday, declining to participate in yesterday’s confrontation.

 

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