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Is Gay Marriage on the Table in Rhode Island?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island will "absolutely" be introduced during this legislative session, Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) executive director Ray Sullivan confirmed Tuesday.

The bill will be part of the organization's legislative agenda, which Sullivan said will be released later this week. Advocates in the Ocean State are hoping to capitalize off of momentum in other states, including Washington, which became the seventh state to legalize gay marriage earlier this week. Legislatures in New Jersey and Maryland have also taken steps in favor of the measure.

"We're absolutely coming back with a marriage bill this year," Sullivan said. "A lot of politicians would prefer that we just go away and not continue to push this issue, but we will not go away until we see the Governor sign this bill into law."

Civil Unions

State Representative Art Handy and State Senator Rhoda Perry are expected to sponsor the legislation in each chamber. Governor Lincoln Chafee has said he would sign a marriage equality bill into law.

Many in the gay community believed the legislation was going to pass last year during openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox's first year as Speaker. But after concerns over whether the bill had the necessary votes in either chamber, the legislation was tabled and the General Assembly instead opted for a civil unions law.

The legislation granted same-sex couples most of the rights afforded to married couples in Rhode Island without the historical and religious meaning associated with the word “marriage.” Rhode Island became the fifth state to have civil unions, joining New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii. At the time Fox called it a step in the right direction.

“I remain committed to the passage of marriage equality, but democracy is about compromise,” he said. “I am convinced that Rhode Island will someday have full marriage equality and I intend to play a role in that effort.”

Attempt to Appeal Corvese Amendment.

The law has been criticized from all angles, with marriage equality supporters saying it doesn't go far enough and opponents suggesting that no one actually was in favor of the law.

Sullivan said part of MERI's legislative agenda will include the Equal Religious Protection Act (sponsored by Rep. Frank Ferri & Sen. Josh Miller) that would repeal what has become known as the "Corvese amendment" in the civil unions bill. The amendment, which Sullivan says includes the most discriminatory language ever put into any equality bill in the country, allows any religiously connected entity to ignore the legal import of a civil union.

"It's no secret we're going to look to repeal the discriminatory portions of the civil unions bill," Sullivan said. "The Corvese amendment is a license to discriminate."

MERI: Public is on Our Side

Asked whether he thinks local lawmakers would support MERI's legislative agenda, Sullivan, a former State Rep. himself, said he believes members of the General Assembly should look to the courage of leaders in other states that showing support for gay marriage and step up to the plate.

He noted that that the public has already shown its support.

"The majority of Rhode islanders are on our side on this issue," Sullivan said.


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The sad fact is, as long as too many politicians (meaning the majority) on Smith Hill are beholden to Bishop Tobin (whose involvement in politics is the quintessential violation of the separation of church ad state), then this initiative will go no where. Sen. President Theresa Paiva-Weed is clearly a "bought and paid for" schill for the position of the Catholic Church hierarchy and will never let a gay marriage equality bill pass in the Senate without repercussions for those who cross her or the bishop. The inclusion of the despicable Corvese amendment is the clearest indication that, in New England, Rhode Island continues to be the epitome of the antithesis of progressive and modern thinking.

Comment #1 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 15

The "power" of the bishop and the Catholic Church as a whole exists only in the minds of the politicians. The large majority of Catholics in the pews believe in equality in marriage, as well as the choice to use contraception, etc. Bishops have as little credibility as any other politician.As they say "Birds of a feather....".

Comment #2 by Daniel Dupuis on 2012 02 15

My friend Steve is discriminated against everyday here in RI because he is not allowed to marry the person he loves. Steve and Darrin deserve to have the same hopes and dreams as others and I wish them well and look forward to their marriage.

Come on RI, it's the 21st century! Time to get your head out of the sand and do what's right. Marriage equality is right!

Comment #3 by Tony Hempfer on 2012 02 16

Given the hostile political climate to true equality here in RI, my partner & I are beginning to look for a home in Massachusetts so we can legally marry and stop being discriminated against by these hack politicians.

Comment #4 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 16

I believe in full marriage equality. It's about time politicians stop fighting what is right and doing what is wrong!

Comment #5 by Donna Marie on 2012 02 16

I would really love to be able to attend the weddings of my very deserving gay friends and their partners. Why is love in question?? People are actually leaving our state so that they can continue their life and be legally married. That is insane to me. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR??? Nobody should be judged for whom they love. We aren't talking man and beast. Love is love. Do what's right!

Comment #6 by sheri leach on 2012 02 17

"The majority of Rhode islanders are on our side on this issue," Sullivan said.

Then let Rhode Islanders vote on the issue. If passed by the voters, instead of the legislature, the law would have greater legitimacy.

Comment #7 by Christopher Lee on 2012 02 20

The Comment Mr. Lee made is always a stalking horse statement for gay marriage opponents. It is never, will never, should never be right for the majority to vote on the civil rights of a minority. In every instance of allowing such votes, the majority has always voted to restrict or deny them to a minority and it has always taken legislation and/or court decisions to overturn such discrimination.

Comment #8 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 20

And before I hear the "if Mr. Sullivan is correct" rebuttal, it should be noted that opponents of such civil rights extensions ALWAYS turn out in greater numbers at the polls than do supporters. That may reflect poorly on those who support gay marriage but can't be bothered to vote, but inevitably it also skews votes towards the opposition rather than reflecting the will of the majority.

Comment #9 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 20

Mr. Ferreira, the ultimate source of our laws, the constitution, requires voter approval of amendments to it. If a popular vote is required to approve changes to the ultimate source of our laws, then it is entirely proper to have a popular vote on a subordinate issue.

Comment #10 by Christopher Lee on 2012 02 21

Mr. Lee, there is already an amendment to cover this issue. That would be the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, which also paved the way for the various voting rights laws and other civil rights laws passed by legislatures and decided by the courts. The 14th amendment was approved of by state legislatures, NOT the general public, thus putting to rest your argument.

Comment #11 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 21

Mr. Ferreira, ARTICLE XIV, Section 1 of the Rhode Island Constitution states:

Section 1. Procedure for proposing and approving amendments. -- The general assembly may propose amendments to the constitution of the state by a roll call vote of a majority of the members elected to each house. Any amendment thus proposed shall be published in such manner as the general assembly shall direct, and submitted to the electors at the next general election as provided in the resolution of approval; and, if then approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon, it shall become a part of the constitution.

Comment #12 by Christopher Lee on 2012 02 21

Under the 14th Amendment, equal protection clause of the US Constitution, the guarantee of equal protection precludes the need for amendment of any state constitution to guarantee the equal rights of any citizen. All the amending process of the RI constitution will do is allow for the unconstitutional codification of discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens of the state. I would remind you that BOTH the First Circuit Court of Appeals AND the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have struck down such discriminatory laws and amendments precisely on this argument. The state legislatures and the courts are fully capable of and constitutionally authorized to prevent a bigoted public vote from taking place which would be successfully challenged through the federal courts.

Comment #13 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 22

Mr. Ferreira, you place great faith in the courts and legislatures, but not the popular vote. Well state legislatures and courts throughout the nation have defined marriage as between a single man and a single woman, except, perhaps, for the activist courts you cited. I would add that activist courts are frequently overruled by the US Supreme Court.

If the ultimate arbiter of our civil rights, the US Supreme Court, rules in favor of traditional marriage, will you accept their decision? Or will you only accept the US Supreme Court's decision if it goes your way?

Comment #14 by Christopher Lee on 2012 02 22

I place greater faith in the courts and the legislatures for the very reason you are arguing to maintain discrimination - because the demand from folks such as yourself for the democratic process to be applied is simply a method of forcing social engineering to force all of the public to live life as you see it should be. As slavery was once thought of, even in the Bible, as being perfectly acceptable, so too is treating gays and lesbians as people to be prevented from making their own decisions as to whom they love and want to marry for all time. For so-called conservatives, interfering in the private lives of people seems awfully intrusive. In fact, it is the antithesis of conservative. And before you count your Supreme Court chickens, be reminded that one of the conservative-leaning justices has consistently voted for the individual rights of gays, meaning there's at least an even-money chance that the court will side with individual rights over your desire for majority-decision bigotry. And, since I know you will harp on this issue, no, I will not rest if there is an adverse decision by the US Supreme Court. After all, why would I want you or any of your ilk telling anyone else how to live their lives?

Comment #15 by J. Ferreira on 2012 02 22

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