Gay Marriage: The Time Is Now
Saturday, April 16, 2011
“Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy,” he said. “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley to the sunlit path of justice.”
Gay marriage is a new civil rights battle being fought right here in our own General Assembly. For too long, gay Rhode Islanders have been denied the legal protections of state-recognized marriage. The reason I am speaking out in unwavering support of marriage equality is simple: extending equal access to the law for all is not just the right thing to do, it’s the American thing to do, and it is certainly the Rhode Island thing to do.
Our state may be small, but we are mighty, and we hold a tremendous place in the history of our great nation. Roger Williams carved out a small piece of land and named it Providence – or God’s will – and declared it a territory of religious freedom and independence.
Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen colonies to renounce our allegiance to the Crown, and later, in protest against unjust trade regulations, we set ablaze a British schooner in what is celebrated today as Gaspee Day.
When colony after colony ratified the Constitution of these United States, Rhode Islanders withheld their endorsement until assurances were made that the freedoms in the Bill of Rights would permanently and prominently be included– ensuring those inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Rhode Island has always embraced freedom with boldness. Yet now we embarrassingly trail behind our neighbors Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut, all of whom have already recognized marriage equality. Once pioneers of religious independence, Rhode Island now fails to keep pace with the vast majority of our New England neighbors.
We seem to have lost touch with the core values that make our state great. History is, after all, often our best teacher, and history tells us that liberty always triumphs over oppression. History shows us that eventually walls will fall, despotic regimes will be replaced and freedom will prevail. So it was in Berlin, in South Africa, in Egypt, and soon in Libya, and so shall it be here in Rhode Island, with our own struggle for marriage equality.
Just as children today ask their parents why black people once could not marry white people, so too will the children of tomorrow ask their parents why gay people once could not marry. It has been said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. Rhode Island will achieve marriage equality, because freedom and justice always prevail.
In fact, the train has left the station. Full equality for gays and lesbians is near: the momentum is building, and the time is now. We are no longer a nation that says, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Rather, we are a nation that has always said, “E Pluribus Unum…Out of many, we are one,” and to anyone, gay or straight, who is willing to risk his/her life for this great nation, we say simply and unequivocally: thank you for your service. We are no longer a nation that defends the “Defense of Marriage Act.” The President has instructed his Attorney General to no longer defend its constitutionality.
Milestone after milestone in the struggle for marriage equality affirms not just “tolerability,” but “inevitability.”
I ask all Rhode Islander to rise with me out of the “dark and desolate valley.” Stand with me to show that we are indeed a state that still is an icon of tolerance and freedom. Stand with me to uphold the ideal that all men and women are created equal and that we live in a world where love truly conquers all.
Jackie Robinson is a seminal figure who is said to have integrated major league baseball. He was good enough to play major league baseball, but was not allowed to eat with or stay in the same hotel as the white players. When interviewed years later, his former teammates all said they wished they had acted more courageously, and they were sorry and embarrassed that they had not stood up for their teammate. As a newly elected State Senator, I am a teammate along side my colleagues in the General Assembly. I hope they will have the courage to stand up for me.
To my venerable elected colleagues I say, the time is now. The time is now.
Donna Nesselbush is a newly elected Senator from Pawtucket’s District 15. She is the Associate Municipal Court Judge for the City of Pawtucket and Co-Vice President of the Municipal Court Judges Association. She also is a founding partner and practicing attorney at the law firm of Marasco & Nesselbush, Llp.
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