NEW: Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Gay Marriage Bills
Friday, March 11, 2011
Among the many proposals contained in the five bills were the removal of gender-specific language from marriage laws, allowance of domestic unions, and the addition of a ballot question that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Before the testimonies were heard, openly-gay senator Donna Nesselbush (D-15th district) spoke in favor of the legislation, comparing the battle for marriage equality to the Civil Rights movement. Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Nesselbush said that “now is the time to make real the promise of democracy,” and that failure to do so would leave Rhode Island on the “wrong side of history.” Nesselbush went on to lament that the fact that Rhode Island, a state founded on tolerance, had fallen behind its New England peers in regards to gay rights.
Among those who testified in favor of the bills were Sylvia Deluca and Tony Deluca, the latter being a former state representative. The Deluca’s explained how the “arcane and unjust,” laws of Rhode Island forced them to travel to Provincetown, Massachusetts for the wedding of their lesbian daughter. Another woman recounted the story of how she was not allowed to accompany her ill partner in the emergency room of a hospital, and how after her partner had died, she was not allowed to pick up the ashes due to her lack of an official relationship status.
Opponent: 'Would Push Us ... Into the Abyss'
Not all were so effusively supportive of the bills.
Joseph Cavanagh, a providence attorney and a member of the National Organization for Marriage in Rhode Island, warned that redefining marriage would have a devastating effect on society. “I can think of no other legislative action that would push us further into the abyss” said Cavanagh, “it has been the ideal way of society since the beginning of time.”
Fr. Bernard Healey, speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, said that the church’s opposition to gay marriage was not rooted in hate or bigotry, but was simply a matter of defending the right to have marriage between a man and a woman recognized as a distinct and special entity. “Union between husband and wife is a distinct vocation, and using the law to alter or to redefine marriage is an injustice to those who have embraced this state in life and negates the long history of benefit,” Healey declared.
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