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Religious Tolerance logo

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

2013-JAN to FEB: Bill passed by the House.
Senate debate and voting is the next step.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-JAN-24: Bill passes in the House by an overwhelming majority:

A few representatives debated the bill.

Rep. Arthur Corvese, (D), who added the Corvese Amendment to the 2011 civil union bill to allow religious groups and religiously affiliated groups like religious hospitals to ignore civil unions, said that same-sex marriage (SSM) was an:

"... irrevocable societal game-changer ... [that would redefine] the fundamental building block of our community."

He expressed the concern that this might be the start of a slippery slope leading to legal polygamy or plural marriages:

" ... Truth must not be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Is this the vision you want for Rhode Island's future? Is this the future you want for America?"

Rep. John Edwards, (D) said:

"Your grandchildren someday will ask you ... 'How did you vote on marriage equality?. Hopefully you'll be able to say the right thing."

During the early evening, the Rhode Island House overwhelmingly passed Bill HB5015 by a vote of 51 to 19.

House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, said:

"Today is a great day. Today … we stand for equality, we stand for justice." 1

He also commented on conservatism in the state when compared to other New England states:

"It’s a combination of the quirkiness of our little state, [and] the really entrenched opposition of our Catholic Church." 2

Ken Fish, 70, who is gay, observed the vote from the viewing gallery. He said:

"I wanted to be here to see it. Go back 10 years, even five years, and I wasn't sure we'd ever get here. We're not done yet, but this [vote] is a big one." 3

Chris Plante, director of the state chapter of the National Institute for Marriage, rejected the conclusions of at least a half dozen recent polls, one of which was by his own group! The polls have unanimously concluded that the majority of adults in Rhode Island support SSM, with a margin of support ranging from 9 to 29 percentage points. He maintains that legislators who support SSM are violating the wishes of the Rhode Island public. He said:

"Rhode Islanders care about marriage, and they don't want to see it redefined."

During a television interview on 2011-APR-29, Plante used almost identical words to claim that "... the people of Rhode Island don't want same-sex marriage." This statement earned him the "Pants on Fire" rating by PolitiFact. This is the most negative rating that they have, beyond merely judging the statement to be "false." 4

He is quoted in the New York Times as saying:

“The Senate has always been a stalwart for protecting life, marriage and family in Rhode Island. Rhode Island has bigger issues than gay marriage. Our economy remains stagnant at best, in the tank at worst. We’re tied for the worst unemployment rate in the nation. There’s going to be a lot of things on the agenda between now and whenever the Senate decides to take this up." 2

He overlooks the many statements by commercial and industry leaders that prohibitions against same-sex marriage harm the state economy.

A few days after the House passed the bill, the House of Delegates and Executive Committee of the Rhode Island Bar Association (RIBA) endorsed the bill. 5

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, issued a statement saying:

"We greatly appreciate the endorsement of the Rhode Island Bar Association. Access to the unique protection and recognition of marriage to all Rhode Island families is of paramount importance to the fair administration of justice. The Bar Association understands this, and we are proud to have them stand in support of our grassroots campaign to bring marriage equality to the Ocean State."

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Next step: the State Senate:

Speculation was divided whether the bill will pass the Senate. Opposition was formidable. The President of the Senate, Teresa Paiva Weed (D), is a devout Catholic. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael McCaffrey (D) is a Catholic and a member of the Knights of Columbus. Both have opposed the bill. Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio (D) , earlier co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage which was launched by Frank Ciccone (D). 6

State Senator Weed said in a WJAR-TV program:

"There's a whole group of people who are genuinely struggling with this issue. The debate and the discussion in the Senate will be very real, and neither I nor anybody else ... really knows what the final outcome of that will be."

The bill as passed by the House contains a religious exemption clause which states that clergy, churches, and religious denominations are free to discriminate against same sex couples by refusing to marry them. But some senators want a greatly expanded clause. Senator Weed said that several senators want a religious exemption added to the bill that would allow religious leaders, churches, and religiously affiliated organizations to discriminate against and denigrate the LGBT community by not recognizing their relationships as valid and denying them access to marriages.

A lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Church has expressed concern that Catholic schools and charitable organizations might be forced to treat employees who are married to a person of the same gender and give them the same benefits, protections and recognitions that spouses of opposite-sex married spouses receive.

Governor Chafee (I) has urged the Senate to process the SSM bill with a high priority. He said:

"Now that the House has swiftly acted, I urge Senate leadership to 'call the roll' -- for our economy, for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, and for history." 7

Later, he said in an interview that Rhode Island's denial of marriage to same-sex couples sends a message of intolerance to technology and life-science companies. It puts the state in conflict with the beliefs of the younger generation of innovators that he wants to retain. He said:

"We are in intense competition with Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. We are all in the same economy. We have to have the same welcome mat at our door that our neighbors have." 8

Jason Clampet, writing for Skift Travel IQ said:

"Positioned as they are between New York City and Boston, Rhode Island's seaside resort areas would benefit big-time from destination weddings for gay couples, and become noted nearby gay-friendly spots like Provincetown." 8

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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. David Klepper, "Rhode Island House easily passes gay marriage bill," Associated Press, 2013-JAN-25, at:
  2. Ciccone wants voters to define marriage," GoLocal, 2013-JAN-23, at:
  3. Jess Bidgood, "Gay marriage bill approved in Rhode Island House Vote," New York Times, 2013-JAN-24, at:
  4. "Executive director of marriage group says most Rhode Islanders oppose gay marriage," PolitiFact Rhode Island, 2011-MAY-11, at:
  5. "Rhode Island Bar Endorses Gay Marriage," On Top Magazine, 2013-FEB-09, at:
  6. Ted Nesi, "Is the Rhode Island Senate warming up to same-sex marriage?," WPRI-TV, 2012-MAY-10, at:
  7. David Klepper & Michelle R. Smith, "Religious exemptions key to RI gay marriage debate ," Lexington Herald-Leader, 2013-JAN-25, at:
  8. Anne Linskey, "Rhode Island’s governor sees tourism boost from legalized gay marriage," Bloomberg, 2013-FEB-06, at:

Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-15
Latest update: 2013-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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