Five hours of testimony over two gay
marriage bills in the Rhode Island Legislature – one backing, the
other prohibiting – produced heated discussions last night.
Both bills were heard in the same state
Senate Judiciary Committee in an unusual evening session that began
Senator Leo Blais, the Republican from
Coventry who introduced legislation that would limit marriage to
heterosexual couples by amending the state constitution, produced the
most sparks when he read aloud a portion of written testimony
submitted by Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Providence, who likened gay marriage to several criminal
“Contrary to the assertion of others,
this is not an issue about civil rights. Freedom is not unbridled
license. ... In short, there's never a right to do something wrong.
... The fact that two adults consent to an action doesn't make it
morally right or socially acceptable. After all, two consenting
adults can engage in drug use, prostitution, bigamy, polygamy or
other immoral activities,” the bishop wrote.
Tobin also sits on the board of
advisers of the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island that
is currently running radio ads backing the bill to ban gay marriage.
“These are the same legislators who
don't have time to balance our budget, to restrain out-of-control
spending, or come to some kind of agreement on immigration, but they
have time to mess with gay marriage?” a female announcer asks.
“I want a mommy and a daddy,” a
little boy pleads at the end of the spot.
Representative Arthur Handy, a Democrat
from Cranston, introduced his gay marriage bill in the House on
Wednesday with 30 co-sponsors.
In a telephone conversation, Kathy
Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI),
told On Top Magazine that support for gay marriage continues
to grow, pointing to the tenfold increase from 2003 in Handy's House
“I am always hopeful,” she said.
“We're so close to getting marriage equality in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island currently recognizes gay
marriage in a roundabout way. Gay couples wishing to marry need only
cross the border into neighboring Connecticut or Massachusetts.
Those wedding vows are valid in the Ocean State, but getting a
divorce in a state that does not officially offer gay marriage might
prove contentious. Blais' bill also aims to close this loophole.
According to a recent poll commissioned
by MERI there is strong public support for senate bill 147 introduced
by Democratic Senators Rhoda Perry of Providence, Susan Sosnowski of
New Shoreham, Juan Pichardo of Providence, Joshua Miller of Cranston,
and Charles Levesque of Bristol. A majority of responders (49%)
support marriage equality, while only 37% oppose it, the poll
indicated. This is the fourth year in a row that a majority of
likely voters have approved of gay marriage.
Rhode Island, the union's smallest
state, is located in the six-state New England region where the gay
marriage debate is at maximum amperage. Bills that would turn the
entire region into a gay marriage sanctuary have been introduced this
year in the four remaining states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine
and Rhode Island. New Hampshire and Vermont currently offer civil
unions for gay couples.
There was no committee vote at last
night's hearing. Legislative leaders in Rhode Island have the
discretion to schedule a vote throughout the legislative session,
which ends in June.
The gay marriage debate in Rhode Island
has been going on for twelve long years. A bill to extend the
benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples has been submitted
each of those years.