It's all about hearings on gay marriage in Rhode Island. The smallest state in the union is apparently also the scrappiest; scheduling debates – not votes – on the issue of gay marriage.

Last night they held another and it was a heated altercation, reports The Providence Journal.

Priests mingled with gay and lesbian couples during an evening House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday on two proposed gay marriage bills – one would legalize the institution, while the other would place the question before voters.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence continues in its role as the primary opponent to gay marriage in Rhode Island. “It has been and continues to be the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as well as the existing state law that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Rev. Bernard Healey testified.

In February, a Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Republican Senator Leo Blais' bill that would limit marriage to a heterosexual union by amending the state constitution and the Senate version of the gay marriage bill.

“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,” Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of the Diocese of Providence, said in written testimony.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to vote on either measure.

In fact, the heated debate in Rhode Island has been plugging along for 12 long years without a single legislative vote cast on the issue.

“It is embarrassing and insulting that I have come before you again to beg for the constitutional right of Rhode Island's citizens to marry the people we love,” said openly gay state Representative Frank Ferri, a Democrat from Warwick.

Democrats dominate the Rhode Island Legislature and polling indicates that a small majority of voters would reject a gay marriage ban, but lawmakers and Governor Donald Carcieri, a Republican, in this predominantly Catholic state continue to reject gay marriage.

Last month, Carcieri and his wife, Sue, announced they had joined the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a group that opposes gay marriage.

The announcement left little doubt that Carcieri would veto a gay marriage bill if lawmakers elected to send him one, leaving Rhode Island an island in a sea of marriage equality. Four New England states have legalized gay marriage and a bill approved by the New Hampshire Legislature awaits Governor John Lynch's decision.