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Same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in Rhode Island

National Organization for Marriage caught in lie.
Bill to ban SSM introduced in Senate.
National Organization for Marriage
raises alarm.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-JAN-17: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) caught in a lie:

NOM is the largest national group that is dedicated to preventing loving, committed same-sex couples from being able to marry. On 2013-JAN-17, a week before the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the SSM bill, NOM said in a newspaper ad titled "The Big Lie:"

"Religious groups like Knights of Columbus have been forced to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their facilities, against their beliefs. 1

PolitiFact-Rhode Island is a truth checking group. They investigated the NOM claim and found it groundless.

PolitiFact-Rhode Island and the OCRT -- the group that maintains this web site -- have never heard of such an event. In the U.S., to force any congregation to hold a wedding ceremony for a couple that doesn't meet the group's requirements would be a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Churches have been denying marriage for decades to inter-racial couples, inter-faith couples, and even -- in the case of the Catholic Church -- a couple where one partner was physically disabled. To our knowledge, no church or clergyperson has ever been charged in such a case or forced to conduct a marriage ceremony.

When PolitiFact checked into the claim, they found that it was based on an event in British Columbia, Canada that involved the Knights of Columbus. A woman had booked a Knights of Columbus hall owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of British Columbia. She and her female partner wanted to rent it for their wedding reception. Same-sex marriage had been legal in British Columbia since mid-2003, and across all of Canada since mid-2005. The Knights only found out after having signed the contract that the couple was of the same gender. They violated the terms of the contract by unilaterally cancelling it. The couple then found another hall where they held their receiption.

The Knights were ordered by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal to pay each of the women $1,000 as compensation "for injury to their dignity, feelings and self-respect." 2 They were ordered "to refrain from committing the same or similar contravention" of anti-discrimination rules in the future.

They were not forced to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their facilities, and have not been forced since. To our knowledge, they have not even been ordered to allow the reception of a same-sex couple to be held in one of their halls. It is unlikely that any same-sex couple who regularly watches The Big Bang Theory might want to risk holding a ceremony involving food or drinks in a religious hall against the will of the hall owner. 3

PolitiFact-Rhode Island gave NOM their "Pants on Fire" rating on their Truth-O-Meter. 1 The term is apparently derived from the saying "Liar, liar, pants on fire."

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2013-JAN-22: Senator Frank Ciccone introduces anti-SSM referendum bill:

State Senator Frank Ciccone (D) introduced a bill to the Senate that would authorize a referendum. It would attempt to amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It would insert a new section to the Constitution defining marriage as a:

"lawful union between one man and one woman, provided the recognition and definition of marriage shall not prohibit the recognition of a lawful civil union between two (2) members of the same gender."

The bill, S 0096, was been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Many social and religious conservatives favor such an amendment. Similar amendments have been passed in about 30 U.S. states.

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2013-JAN-23: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) distributes "Action Needed" emergency mailing:

Christopher Plante is the Regional Coordinator for NOM in Rhode Island -- a group wholly devoted to preventing any same-sex couples from being able to marry. He composed a letter which was distributed by the national organization to their mailing list. He noted that the timing of the House vote is critical because the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in two SSM-related cases in about two months:

  • One involves the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 referendum during 2008-NOV that terminated future same-sex marriages in that state.

  • The other involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages that have been legally solemnized in the District of Columbia or in a growing number of states -- currently nine.

His apparent concern is that if Rhode Island legalizes SSMs, the case in favor of marriage equality in the eyes of the Supreme Court and the rest of the nation will be strengthened.

Plante wrote:

"Marriage is too important a matter to be left to the whims of heavily lobbied politicians and the special interest groups padding their pockets."

"Rhode Island has bravely held out against the tide of radical politics that has swept across its neighboring states in New England, where same-sex marriage activists have succeeded in forcing their agenda through the legislatures."

He seems to ignore the referendums on election day in 2012-NOV in which a majority of citizens bypassed their state legislatures and voted to legalize SSM in Maryland and Vermont.

National surveys since 2011 have consistently shown that most American adults favor allowing loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. Plante would seem to be implying that the majority opinion of the American people is a radical one.

His email contained a form that allows readers to email a letter opposing SSM to three key representatives in the Rhode Island House -- two Democrats and one Republican. It refers to:

"... the terrible consequences that redefining marriage always has for the liberties of religious individuals and organizations."

At first, I thought that Plante was referring to the three previous instances during U.S. history when marriage was redefined:

  • During the mid-19th century when African Americans were allowed to marry.

  • During the early 20th century when earlier laws in a few states that prohibited deaf couples from marrying were repealed.

  • In 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized interracial marriages across the country.

But these redefinitions had only positive results in society. They allowed entire groups of loving, committed couples to marry who were previously forbidden to be married. They did not have any negative impacts on religious liberty at the time or since.

But the I realized that he was probably referring to events since 2004 when Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize SSM. There have been a few isolated cases where wedding photographers, people who rented halls for receptions, etc. have run afoul of statewide human rights laws that prohibited discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. There have been other cases where schools and hospitals affiliated with conservative Christian denominations have been required to treat all loving, committed married couples equally even though the organizations wanted to denigrate the marriages of same-sex couples. As in the situation described above, this was not religious freedom in the historical meaning of the term: the right to hold different religious beliefs, to gather with other believers, to build structures dedicated to their religion, to prostelyze, etc. Plante's comments seems to be reflecting the new meaning of religious freedom: the freedom of religious individuals and groups to denigrate and discriminate against minority groups with impunity.

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This topic continues in the next essay ...

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "The National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island says religious groups have been forced to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their facilities." PolitiFact-Rhode Island, 2013-JAN-27 at: http://www.politifact.com/
  2. Michael McKinney, "Smith and Chymyshyn v. Knights of Columbus and others," British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, 2005-NOV-29, at: http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/
  3. This is an obscure reference to Penny's repetition of a food order involving "extra spit" in at least one episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Copyright © 2011 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-18
Latest update: 2013-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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