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Religious Tolerance logo

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

2013-APR: Bill passed by the full Senate!
National Organization for Marriage complains.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2013-APR-24: The full Senate approves their version of the same-sex marriage bill:

Just before the vote, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence discussed same-sex marriage, saying:

As the Rhode Island Senate prepares to take action on legislation that would seek to legitimize 'same-sex marriage,' I once again urge members of the Senate to stand strong in resisting this immoral and unnecessary proposition and to defend marriage and family as traditionally defined. We should be very clear about this: it is only with grave risk to our spiritual well-being and the common good of our society that we dare to redefine what God himself has created. My prayer is that the senators will have all the wisdom and courage they need to do the right thing in this moment of decision." 1

The Senate approved their version of the SSM bill, as amended, with a vote of 26 to 12. It now returns to the Rhode Island House for final approval of the amended bill.

Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) has been promoting the bill and has promised to sign it into law when it reaches his desk. This might happen on MAY-02. This would make Rhode Island:

  • The sixth and final New England state,
  • The tenth U.S. state and,
  • The eleventh political jurisdiction (including the District of Columbia)

to attain marriage equality in the U.S.

Dorothy J. Samuels, editor at the New York Times, wrote:

"Rhode Island’s advance adds to the building sense of [national] momentum for marriage equality. But it in no way obviates the need for action from the Supreme Court, which is of course currently weighing decisions on California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

No matter what’s happening in certain states, the Supreme Court has a duty to enforce the Constitution’s promise of equal protection with a broad ruling establishing a nationwide right of same-sex couples to wed." 2

Most political commentators suspect that at least four Supreme Court Justices would disagree with Samuels' comment.

Senator Donna Nesselbush, (D) is the bill's main sponsor in the Senate. She said:

"This is a historic piece of legislation, one that literally has been in the works for more than 20 years. This is something that undoes centuries of discrimination against gay and lesbian couples." 3

Bills to legalize SSM have been introduced into the Legislature every year since 1997. This is the first bill that has been allowed to be voted on by the House or Senate.

Senator William Conley (D) said:

"Although this issue may appear divisive at this time, I firmly pray, hope, and believe that history will judge marriage equality as an expression of joy, freedom, and liberty that gives all Rhode Islanders an equal opportunity to understand and complete their humanity." 4

You Tube video of the final vote in the Senate:


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2013-APR-24: National Organization for Marriage (NOM) expressed concern at Senate's passage of the SSM bill:

In spite of its name implying that NOM is "for" marriage, its main function is to actively fight to prevent marriage by same-sex couples across the U.S. In their blog, they stated:

"The Senate has abandoned society's most important institution and put their constituents on a collision course with the law..." said Brian Brown, NOM's president, ... "Lawmakers have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking they have protected people of faith when in fact they have put those who believe in true marriage in the cross hairs of the law and gay 'marriage' activists. It won't be long before the repercussions begin to be felt."

SB 38 does not create a new category of marriage for same-sex couples, ... it completely redefines marriage for all people in Rhode Island ... . While it purports to include so-called religious liberty protections for churches and certain religious groups, it contains no protections for other faith-based organizations and no protections for small businesses and individuals who are frequently targeted for legal punishment over their refusal to countenance genderless marriage, ... 'Citizens in other states that have redefined marriage have heard the same shallow promises from elected officials that nobody will be negatively impacted by redefining our most important social institution,' said Scott Spear, ... an Advisory Board Member for NOM Rhode Island. 'It won't be long before gay 'marriage' activists start pressing hard their new found rights on the faithful in Rhode Island. ... In Vermont, Christian innkeepers were sued. ... It was Christian florists in Washington state. ... Elsewhere photographers, bakers, event venue operators, notary publics, justices of the peace and town clerks have all been targeted for punishment if they do not agree to go along with gay 'marriage' in violation of their deeply-held beliefs'."

NOM's blog post is difficult to read because messages about ordering "toprol xl online" are inserted repeatedly in the text where "..." appears in the above quotation. We suspect that as the inevitability of SSM in all 50 states is becoming accepted by the public, people are realizing that it is hopeless to try to prevent the spread of marriage equality through reason and logic. As a result donations to NOM are probably decreasing rapidly. By inserting ads in the middle of their text, they can perhaps raise more funds.

NOM is referring to the clause in the SSM bill that allows clergy, congregations, religious denominations and religiously affiliated groups like the Knights of Columbus to refuse to participate in the marriages of same-sex couples for any reason. However, a handful of commercial establishments across the U.S. have been prosecuted for violating their state's anti-discrimination laws that apply when companies supply a service or product to the general public, but refuse to deal with certain customers on the basis of the latter's race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Many companies have found it to their advantage to refuse to serve same-sex couples. Religious and social conservatives often seek out such companies to support them financially. Many companies have seen their revenue increase greatly. The reference to "justices of the peace and town clerks" apparently refers to two cases in New York -- and Saskatchewan in Canada -- where individuals were in conflict because their religion taught that same-sex marriage is immoral, and yet they had taken oaths to uphold state law and administer it fairly. Some refused to marry same-sex couples or issue marriage licenses. Others followed their oaths, and still others resigned.

The NOM blog continues with a threat against Republican lawmakers who vote for SSM. But public opinion polls shows that their threat may be counterproductive in Rhode Island:

  • A JAN Public Policy Polling survey showed 57% support and 36% opposition to SSM.

  • A FEB Brown University survey showed 60% support and 26% opposition to SSM

  • An earlier poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that 63% of Catholics supported SSM.

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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. "Statement of Bishop Tobin on RI Senate Action on Same-Sex Marriage," The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, 2013-APR-22, at:
  2. Dorothy Samuels, "And then there were ten," New York Times, 2013-APR-26, at:
  3. "Rhode Island on track to be 10th state to allow gay marriage," USA Today, 2013-APR-24, at:
  4. Laura Clawson, "Rhode Island Senate passes marriage equality, 26-12," Daily KOS, 2013-APR-24, at:
  5. "In historic vote, RI Senate approves same-sex marriage," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-24. at:

Copyright © 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-15
Latest update: 2014-NOV-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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