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Religious Tolerance logo

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

2013-APR: Bill passed by Senate Judiciary
Bill amended by the Senate.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-APR-23: Senate Judiciary Committee passed SSM bill:

Events went into high gear during the week of APR-21. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 4 to forward the SSM bill the full Senate for a vote.

The Associated Press reported that:

"Dozens of supporters cheered and cried following the vote. Ken Fish, a 70-year-old gay man from Warwick, said he watched the committee vote with a mixture of disbelief and elation.

'It's almost unreal to think we're here, after all these years," he said. 'I wasn't sure we'd ever get here'." 13

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Webmaster's personal comment (Bias alert):

As the bill progresses through the Legislature, some strange inversions are occurring that defy traditional party positions on same-sex marriage. In the past, one could predict with reasonable certainty whether a bill would progress through a state's Legislature by simply assuming that all Democrats would vote in favor, and all Republicans would vote against, the legislation. But now, in Rhode Island at least, that formula no longer works.

On APR-23, an event occurred that I had not expected would happen during this decade: All five of the Republicans in the Rhode Island Senate announced that they would support the SSM bill. At first, I thought that it was a hoax. But the report appeared in multiple reliable media sources.

This is the first time in Rhode Island history that an entire party delegation has gone on record as supporting SSM. And it was a group of Republicans who did it!

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Comments on the bill's passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee:

According to PolicyMic:

"... the decision of the Rhode Island Republican Senate Caucus has drawn the ire of social conservative activists. Christopher Plante, regional director for the anti same-sex marriage organization National Organization for Marriage, said of Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R):

"If he ends up voting ‘yes,’ we will do what we can to unseat him. He will have broken with the Republican Party, and he will have also broken with the people who have elected him."

The Rhode Island Senate Republican Caucus released a statement on their decision. It states very simply the principles that the Republican Party may well embrace in future years with respect to SSM:

"Our Senate Republican Caucus is deeply committed to the values of freedom, liberty and limited government.   In accordance with those values, we believe that freedom means freedom for everyone, and that every citizen of Rhode Island deserves the freedom to marry the person they love.   

We support Senate Bill 38 because it rightfully extends the civil aspects of marriage to all Rhode Islanders while protecting the freedom of religion our state was founded upon.  Gay and lesbian couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, and at the same time churches, synagogues and mosques in our state must be free to exercise their faith and their sacraments as they see fit.  This bill strikes the right balance and should be passed by the Senate. 

We recognize that there is a national consensus building on this generational issue, and we are glad that support for the freedom to marry is growing within the Republican Party.  Today we join the 209 other Republican state legislators across America who have stood up for the freedom to marry.  As a united Senate Republican Caucus, we are proud to add our voices to reaffirm the principles of freedom and equality under the law." 19

There may be strength in numbers. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) -- the leading national group opposing the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry -- has largely given up the ideological and intellectual battle against marriage equality. They are now resorting to threatening any Republican lawmakers who vote for marriage equality with funds to torpedo their reelections. But NOM is usually promising to commit a fixed amount to be split among all Republicans in a given state who support SSM. So if multiple Republicans vote in favor of marriage equality in one state, the negative effect per legislator will be greatly reduced and will probably be easily compensated for by donations from the LGBT community and from other persons who support "liberty and justice for all."

Dawson Hodgson, a Republican who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, is expected to vote for SSM bill. He said:

"We've got one more step, but I expect it to pass with overwhelming support." 13

Senator Harold Metts, a Democrat, expects to fast and pray until the debate in the Senate on APR-24. He hopes that God will intervene and defeat the bill. He said:

"Culture may change, but God has an immutable character. I'll be praying all night." 13

It may have been risky for Senator Metts to openly admit to praying that God will defeat the bill. Few Christians, Jews, and Muslims doubt that God has the power to influence the Senate vote. If the bill were to become law, some skeptics might argue that this is a sign that God actually favors marriage equality -- perhaps because he loves human variety. Perhaps he loves men, women, heterosexuals, gender-queer, transgender individuals, transsexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, persons of all skin colors and races, of all nationalities and faiths, etc. equally.

The Associated Press article continued:

"The Senate has long been seen as the true test for gay marriage in Rhode Island. Two years ago, gay marriage legislation languished after it became apparent it would be defeated in the Senate. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed [(D)]opposes the bill but has vowed not to obstruct debate." 13

Governor Chafee (I) issued a statement saying:

"I believe that when the roll is called [in the Senate], marriage equality will become law in Rhode Island." 13

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2013-APR-24: Rhode Island Senate amends the same-sex marriage bill:

Many social and religious conservatives are concerned whenever a SSM bill is debated in their state Legislature. They worry about whether faith groups will have the freedom to continue to discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples with impunity. They need not worry because the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution already guarantees that church and state interests must remain separate. The First Amendment already gives faith groups the freedom to denigrate and oppress their members at any time and for any reason. Faith groups have often discriminated against couples in the past, refusing to marry any that are deemed to be immature, or of the wrong faith, or of the wrong race, or of being a mixed race couple, or, in the case of the Catholic Church, being physically disabled. These forms of discrimination continue to the present day, and occasionally surface in the media. For example, in 2012-JUL, just before a scheduled wedding was to take place, members at a Baptist church in Mississippi objected to the marriage of a couple because they were both black. They had to be married in another church. 24

SSM bills passed by other states have often contained a specific clause assuring faith groups that they may safely continue to discriminate on any basis that they wish. The clause is not really needed because the U.S. Constitution already provides sufficient protection. But they are included to make conservatives more comfortable with the bill.

As originally written, the bill had such a clause in place. However, the Senate introduced and passed an amendment that would extend the freedom to discriminate by including groups like the Knights of Columbus. They would not be legally obligated under state human rights laws to make their halls and other facilities available for same-sex weddings or receptions. The amendment was passed.

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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:
  9. Richard C. Dujardin, "Church leaders to speak out in support of marriage equality," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-05, at:
  10. "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:
  11. "Same-sex marriage foe says latest research has 'shattered' claims about children raised by same-sex couples," PolitiFact - Rhode Island, 2013-APR-07, at:
  12. Mike Stanton, "RI Senate president expects a same-sex marriage vote before month's end, Providence Journal, 2013-APR-08, at:
  13. "Rhode Island Senate to take up gay marriage vote after bill passes House," Associated Press, 2013-APR-24, at:
  14. "Rhode Island to legalize gay marriage after Senate vote," BBC News, 2013-APR-24, at:
  15. Dorothy Samuels, "And then there were ten," New York Times, 2013-APR-26, at:
  16. "Rhode Island on track to be 10th state to allow gay marriage," USA Today, 2013-APR-24, at:
  17. Laura Clawson, "Rhode Island Senate passes marriage equality, 26-12," Daily KOS, 2013-APR-24, at:
  18. Gabriel Rodriguez, "Rhode Island Republicans Declare Unanimous Support For Same-Sex Marriage." PolicyMic, 2013-APR-24, at:
  19. Ian Donnis, "Algiere, Bates join RI Senate GOP bloc in backing bill favored by same-sex marriage supporters," Rhode Island Public Radio, 2013-APR-23, at:
  20. "Poll: R.I. supports same-sex marriage," Press release, Brown University, 2013-FEB-28, at:
  21. "In historic vote, RI Senate approves same-sex marriage," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-24. at:
  22. Katherine Gregg, "R.I. House Judiciary Committee unanimously approves same-sex marriage bills," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-30. at:
  23. David Klepper, "Smooth Sailing Ahead For Rhode Island Gay Marriage Bill," Associated Press, 2013-APR-29, at:
  24. "Church refuses to marry black couple in Mississippi," CNN, 2012-JUL-30. at:


Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-15
Latest update: 2013-MAY-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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