Hundreds Flock to Statehouse for Gay Marriage Showdown
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Before the hearing, Marriage Equality Rhode Island held a rally in the rotunda, drawing as many as 500 supporters, according to a MERI official—many of whom leaned over the marble banisters along the the second and third floors to watch the main event. The overflow at one point caused Capitol Police to temporarily close the main doors to the building as a long line backed up all the way to Smith Street.
Inside, gay-marriage supporters displayed red-and-yellow posters demanding equality, the crowd briefly broke out into song, and one gay couple even got engaged at a high-energy rally that lasted well over an hour.
The crowd later siphoned off towards a hearing room on the third floor—mixing in with opponents of gay marriage, many of whom sported signs that said “1 man + 1 woman = marriage.” (The leading traditional marriage advocacy group, National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, did not have an estimate of how many of its supporters turned out.)
An estimated 200 people signed up to testify at the hearing—driving it late into the evening.
One after another, a train of speakers invoked everyone from St. Valentine to the Independent Man to make their case, either for or against marriage. One speaker warned that gay marriage would “push us into the abyss.” Another man pointed to his ring, spoke of his lifelong commitment to his wife, and said gay couples deserve to have the same opportunity.
Both sides appealed to religion. One priest told the committee that existing state law infringes on his religious freedom by not allowing him to perform marriages for gay couples. However, another speaker, former Providence mayoral candidate Chris Young, said changing the law would violate his religious freedom by imposing a definition of marriage that is incompatible with his Catholic faith.
A number of representatives of national traditional marriage groups also testified, including Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage; Austin Nimocks, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund; and Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council.
‘Numerous ways in which society could be harmed’
“Some advocates of same-sex “marriage” scoff at the idea that redefining marriage could harm anyone. But there are numerous ways in which society could be harmed,” Sprigg said.
“Legalization of homosexual “marriage” would mean that, for the first time in history, society would be placing its highest stamp of official government approval on the deliberate creation of permanently motherless or fatherless households for children,” Sprigg added.
Gary St. Peter, a local attorney who supports gay marriage, urged the committee to use common sense. “We really need to stop the madness,” said St. Peter. “A marriage equality bill hurts nobody that doesn’t need one. … So what are we afraid of?”
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