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Religious Tolerance logo

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

2013-APR: Redefining marriage. House Judiciary
Committee unanimously passes SSM bill! Governor
issues statement.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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A note on redefining marriage, past and present:

Marriage has been redefined in the U.S. at least four times:

  • In the 19th century, marriage was redefined after the civil war to allow African-American couples to marry .

  • Marriage was also redefined during the early 20th century in some states when laws prohibiting deaf couples from marrying were repealed.

  • Legalizing Interracial marriage in 1967 involved a redefinition of marriage when miscegenation laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Starting in the state of Massachusetts during 2004 and the ten provinces and three territories of Canada in 2005, and now extending to the District of Columbia and 9 states in the U.S., marriage has been redefined from the voluntary union of one woman and one man to the voluntary union of two persons.

These redefinitions were heavily opposed at the time but have since been embraced by a large majority of the public. We expect that the current state-by-state redefinitions of marriage to admit same-sex couples will be achieved in the U.S. in the next decade or two, and will also eventually find near universal acceptance.

The first same-sex marriages in Rhode Island could take place on 2013-AUG-01.

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2013-APR-30: SSM bill passes House Judiciary Committee by unanimous vote!

Before the vote, Rep. Doreen Costa, (R) said that she would vote to send the House and Senate bills -- 2013-H 5015B and 2013-S 0038A -- to the full House for a final vote, but would vote against them at that time.

Devin Driscoll, spokesperson for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage said:

"We are proud that once again legislation allowing all Ocean State families the freedom to marry has earned the overwhelming support of the House Judiciary Committee. Our campaign is continuing to ensure the voices of the tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who support marriage equality are heard on Smith Hill, and we look forward to Thursday's debate and vote on the House floor." 1

House Speaker Gordon Fox, (D) said:

"We’ll have that bill on the House floor on Thursday [MAY-02] and then we’ll make history. ... I think it’s a pretty good outlook." 2

Scott Spear, a spokesperson for the National Organization for Marriage - Rhode Island chapter conceded defeat. He said:

"I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to stop the train at this stage." 2

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2013-MAY-01: Statement issued by Governor Lincoln Chafee (I):

"On Thursday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives is expected to approve legislation to extend the right to marry to all Rhode Islanders, regardless of sexual orientation. I plan to sign the Marriage Equality Act into law immediately after the vote, on the steps of the Rhode Island State House, overlooking downtown Providence. This is the same spot where, in my 2011 inaugural address, I called for Rhode Island to embrace marriage equality.

Signing the bill will be gratifying for many reasons. When I first defended gay marriage in 2004, as a Republican United States senator, most of my party colleagues were extreme in their opposition. In fact, to draw a line in the sand, they scheduled a vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in June 2006 — just before the height of a campaign season.

In the end, only six Republican senators joined me in opposing the amendment: Susan Collins, Judd Gregg, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter and John E. Sununu. Of those, only Mr. McCain and Ms. Collins remain in the Senate. Even many of those Republicans opposing a constitutional ban avoided taking a position on gay marriage by saying it was an issue best left to the states. But I went further and announced my support for full marriage equality.

I was one of only four members of the entire Senate to take that stand, along with Senators Ron Wyden, Edward M. Kennedy and Russell Feingold — three of the most socially liberal members of the chamber at the time. Hardly common company for a Republican.

As it turned out, I did lose office in 2006, as part of the general rejection of Republican leadership that year. But I was elected governor as an independent in 2010, and I was proud to see that my stand on gay marriage stood up well over the years.

A historic realignment is happening all around us, as Americans from all walks of life realize that this is the right thing to do. It is occurring both inside and outside of politics, through conversations at the office and over kitchen tables, and at different speeds in different parts of the country. But once the people have spoken, politics should do its part to make the change efficient and constructive.

Much of the argument for and against gay marriage has revolved around the morality of the issue. Each side feels intensely that its position is more righteous than the other side’s. I personally feel that Rhode Island is a better state, and America is a better country, when we are as inclusive as possible.

But over the last few years, as governor, I have been impressed by another argument, one that is less connected to convictions of personal morality, and one that ought to unite all Rhode Islanders. No issue is more important to my state than job creation. Rhode Island was badly battered by the recession of 2008, but we are moving in the right direction. Jobs are the only way forward — we need to keep the ones we have, and we need to create new ones.

There are good signs — our unemployment rate has just undergone the largest yearly drop since 1985 — but one needless obstacle to our recovery remains. Rhode Island is part of a highly regional economy, with the other New England states and New York in constant competition with us for innovative companies, and particularly for the young, open-minded individuals who are close to the heartbeat of the new digital economy. In our small cluster of states, it is relatively easy for a company or a person to cross a border seeking a more favorable climate. And in recent years Rhode Island has been an outlier among our surrounding states: we are the only one prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.

Many experts have found evidence of a strong correlation between tolerance and prosperity, particularly in high-tech sectors. One of them, the author Richard Florida, has identified the “three T’s” — talent, technology and tolerance — as the fundamental basis for the growth of new economies.

With a high concentration of outstanding colleges and universities, Rhode Island certainly has the talent. The technology is there as well, with our state’s broadband speed and coverage ranked among the nation’s best. The Beacon Hill Institute’s most recent State Competitiveness Report also placed Rhode Island fifth among all states in the technology category. Now we are poised to adopt the third and final T: tolerance.

The point is not simply that we are welcoming to gay people, though we are. It is that we want to welcome everyone. The talented workers who are driving the new economy — young, educated and forward-looking — want to live in a place that reflects their values. They want diversity, not simply out of a sense of justice, but because diversity makes life more fun. Why would any state turn away the people who are most likely to create the economies of the 21st century?

I have been heartened in recent months to see members of my old party coming around on marriage equality, including the entire Republican caucus in the Rhode Island Senate — the first time a caucus of either party has been unanimous in its support. That reflects sound political judgment, and some values that are at least as Republican as they are Democratic, including a belief in marriage as an institution and a desire to keep government out of our personal lives.

The push for equality will continue to grow stronger in statehouses, courthouses and polling places in every state in America. This is, by and large, a generational issue, not a geographic one. Even in the reddest states, the rising generations are far more tolerant than their parents and grandparents. As this shift continues, marriage equality will inevitably become law in more and more states. The states that cling to their old prohibitions will then be viewed as the outliers. Like Rhode Island in recent years, they will be seen as islands of old thinking.

This is also true, more broadly, at the national level. The United States is at a competitive disadvantage in attracting skilled workers to fill high-level jobs in technology, finance and health care, as noted by industry leaders and Wall Street executives at Monday’s annual “Out on the Street” conference. It is my hope that the Supreme Court will choose to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and that my fellow governors will lobby their Congressional delegations to address our country’s discriminatory policies at the federal level.

So tomorrow, when I sign the Marriage Equality Act into law, I will be thinking of the Rhode Islanders who have fought for decades simply to be able to marry the person they love. I will be thinking of how Rhode Island is upholding its legacy as a place founded on the principles of tolerance and diversity. But I will also be thinking, as all governors must, about the economy. With marriage equality becoming law tomorrow night in Rhode Island, we are sending a clear message that we are open for business, and that all are welcome. I hope that leaders in capitals across the country — including Washington — will soon realize that marriage equality is an issue where doing the right thing and the smart thing are one and the same." 3

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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. Katherine Gregg, "R.I. House Judiciary Committee unanimously approves same-sex marriage bills," Providence Journal, 2013-APR-30. at:
  2. David Klepper, "Smooth Sailing Ahead For Rhode Island Gay Marriage Bill," Associated Press, 2013-APR-29, at:
  3. Gov. Lincoln Chafee, "Why I Am Signing Marriage Equality Into Law," New York Times, 2013-MAY-01, 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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