Hundreds Show Support for Marriage at Rhode Island House Hearing

At a packed Rhode Island House hearing, people let their legislators know why marriage matters to them. If you're a Rhode Islander and want to add your voice, click here for a fast and easy way to send an email to your representative.

posted by Katherine Gregg and Tom Mooney on

"The same-sex marriage debate played out at high volume at the State House on Wednesday, with advocates waving 'vote for love' signs, and opponents arguing that nothing less than the soul of Rhode Island, the well-being of its children and the 'sanctity of marriage' are at stake in a year when the state’s new governor and openly gay House speaker are enthusiastically backing gay nuptials.

"From a news conference to a rally to a lengthy House Judiciary Committee hearing, the arguments for and against same-sex marriage raged with so many people packing the marble stairs and hallways, the Capitol Police, in a rare but not unprecedented move, temporarily closed off the Smith Street entrance to the State House.

"'We’re more hopeful than ever,' said Kim Stowell, spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, as more than 200 people crowded into the rotunda, and a crowd of equal size was restrained outside. 'Times are changing. Everyone knows a gay person today. It’s harder to say gay people can’t get married when you are talking about someone you know.'

"A smaller group of people opposed to gay marriage took up their own posts in the crowd, with small blue signs that showed a math equation of '1 man + 1 woman = marriage.'

… "Same-gender marriage is already legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, and was allowed in Maine until voters overturned the state Legislature’s approval of same-sex nuptials. In Rhode Island, it has been proposed every year since former state Rep. Michael Pisaturo, D-Cranston, introduced the first same-sex marriage bill in 1997.

"While no vote was taken, Wednesday night’s hours-long hearing may have set the stage for Rhode Island’s own lawmakers to finally decide where they stand.

"In a written statement to the committee, Governor Chafee said: 'I support the Marriage Equality Act as a matter of fundamental fairness.

"'In 1967, the United States Supreme Court held that ‘the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.’ Today, same-sex couples — loving, productive and valued members of our community — are not free to exercise this right in Rhode Island. They are not free to form a public social contract that all agree promotes family stability and provides social, financial and legal benefits to its participants.

"'This is not acceptable to me and should not be acceptable to anyone else. When we deprive gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders of the freedom to marry, we not only deny them a fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution, we also diminish the freedom and liberty of all Rhode Islanders,' Chafee wrote. Lt. Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts conveyed her own support in person.

"In her turn at the microphone, Rhode Island Bar Association President Lise M. Iwon recited a sampling of the legal obstacles that, she said, the same-sex couples who are her clients face, despite her efforts to craft legal agreements that cover every financial and medical possibility.

"'Clients spend thousands of dollars on wills, estate planning, relationship agreements, powers of attorney, adoptions and other documents trying to plan for every eventuality, every tragedy, every mundane circumstance,' she said. 'But no matter how many or what safety nets I try to help them put in place, there is simply no way to provide them with the full scope of protections they would automatically receive if we were able to marry.'

"And 'because we cannot marry,' she said, gay and lesbian couples who conceive a child via artificial insemination 'must incur enormous financial expense and emotional stress of having the second parent adopt the child,' including 'criminal background checks, a six-month waiting period, a home study and adoption hearing.'"


Read the full article here.