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

2013-FEB to APR: Opinion poll. SSM discussions.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-FEB-21/23: Brown University conducts poll on SSM:

Researchers at the Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown University conducted a poll among a random sample of 593 Rhode Island voters between FEB-21 and 23. They asked the question:

"Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into same-sex marriages?"

They found that 60.4% favored marriage equality. This is essentially unchanged from a similar poll in 2009. 26% are opposed to marriage equality. This is a ratio of over 2.3 to 1 in favor.

The poll's margin of error is ±4.0 percentage points. About 60% of those opposed and those in favor of SSM felt strongly about their position.

Curiously, the age range of the respondents who were most in favor of SSM were 30 to 39 years at 89%. Usually the greatest support is the 18 to 29 years-of-age range. This is the highest percentage we have seen in any state or national survey to date. Respondents aged 18 to 29 were 77% in favor; those 40 to 49 were 74% in favor. Only those 70 and over had a plurality opposed to SSM. See a more detailed analysis of this poll. 8

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Next step: the State Senate:

Speculation was divided whether the bill will pass the Senate. Opposition is 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). 1

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 and marriages as valid.

A lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Church has expressed concern that Catholic schools and charitable organizations might be forced to give same-sex married spouses of employees the same benefits 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." 2

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." 3

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." 3

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Discussions during 2013-APR:

Rev. Geoffrey Black, the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, and the Rev. Peter Morales, national president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, delivered a lecture in favor of marriage equality in Providence RI on APR-07. 4

PolitiFact R.I. has been monitoring the quality of statements concerning the SSM bills. They feature a Truth-O-Meter on their web site that rates the accuracy of various statements with ratings ranging from true, to half truth, false, and "pants on fire." They issued two "false" ratings for testimony by two Roman Catholic spokespersons:

  • Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin issued a statement on MAR-27 urging lawmakers to delay taking any action. He said:

    "In light of the historic deliberations of the U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, it would be appropriate for the General Assembly of Rhode Island to defer any action on this critical issue for the time being. Any legislative action that is taken now could very well be rendered completely null and void by the decision of the Supreme Court expected this June. It is likely that the Supreme Court will decide this matter for us, one way or another. Let's wait to see what the highest court of the land says about this issue which is so very important to many Rhode Islanders."

    PolitiFact-RI ruled this statement "False." They reported:

    "We asked legal experts on both sides of the debate whether any action by the U.S. Supreme Court in the two cases it is considering could nullify action by the Rhode Island legislature. All said that passage of either Rhode Island bill would not be affected by a Supreme Court ruling. That's because neither bill is proposing to make same-sex marriage illegal. The Supreme Court, in contrast, is weighing the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriages, said Jesse Choper, professor of public law at the University of California Berkeley School of Law." 5

  • Susan Yoshihara, director of research at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, also received a "False" rating when she talked about research study into how well children of same-sex couples fare in comparison to those raised by heterosexual couples. She said that some studies:

    "... go even further and say that two lesbians might make better parents than a mother and a father, and there was a study that came out a few years ago that pointed to that effect as well. But any scholarly basis for those claims has been shattered by the latest and best social science and research." 6

    The reference to the "latest and best" study referred to a Texas study that has been widely embraced by religious and social conservatives but criticized for serious flaws by other commentators. PolitiFact-RI commented that the study:

    "... touched off a firestorm of criticism from same-sex marriage supporters and from social scientists from around the country." 6

On 2013-APR-08, Senate president M. Theresa Paiva Weed, said that she expected that some version of the SSM bill will leave the Senate Judiciary Committee as soon as the week of APR-21, and be voted on by the full Senate before the end of April. She said:

"I feel very confident that the issue will be fully debated on the floor of the Senate at some point in April -- sometime in the first couple of weeks after the break," she tells The Providence Journal. While she personally opposes same-sex marriage, Paiva Weed says she views her primary responsibility, as Senate president, "to ensure an open and honest debate in committee and on the [Senate] floor." 7

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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. Ted Nesi, "Is the Rhode Island Senate warming up to same-sex marriage?," WPRI-TV, 2012-MAY-10, at: http://blogs.wpri.com/
  2. David Klepper & Michelle R. Smith, "Religious exemptions key to RI gay marriage debate ," Lexington Herald-Leader, 2013-JAN-25, at: http://www.kentucky.com/
  3. Anne Linskey, "Rhode Island’s governor sees tourism boost from legalized gay marriage," Bloomberg, 2013-FEB-06, at: http://skift.com/
  4. Richard C. Dujardin, "Church leaders to speak out in support of marriage equality," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-05, at: http://news.providencejournal.com/
  5. "Rhode Island Catholic Bishop Tobin says U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage could nullify any Rhode Island votes on the issue," PolitiFact - Rhode Island, 2013-APR-03, at: http://www.politifact.com/
  6. "Same-sex marriage foe says latest research has 'shattered' claims about children raised by same-sex couples," PolitiFact - Rhode Island, 2013-APR-07, at: http://www.politifact.com/
  7. Mike Stanton, "RI Senate president expects a same-sex marriage vote before month's end, Providence Journal, 2013-APR-08, at: http://news.providencejournal.com
  8. "Poll: R.I. supports same-sex marriage," Press release, Brown University, 2013-FEB-28, at: http://news.brown.edu/

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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