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Religious Tolerance logo

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

2013-APR: Full House passed bill 56 to 15.
Governor Chafee (I) signed bill into law.
Admitting same-sex couples to marriage.
Reactions. 2013-AUG: Couples marry.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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House debates SSM bill:

Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D) who sponsored the bill in the RI Senate said:

"We're one step closer. Every step is important and every step is exciting."

The House held a relatively brief hearing to previous hearings that lasted for hours on this bill and during previous years.

Kate Montiero, of Rhode Islanders United for Marriage and a well known advocate for equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations said:

"I ask you now for what I hope will be the final time: please pass these bills. Please finally bring marriage equality to Rhode Island. It is, in the end, what it has always been: just plain fair."

Three individuals testified against the bill. Their main concern is that if SSM becomes available, that there would be a moral decline in the state. 1

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2013-MAY-02: House passes bill with a wide margin:

The vote was 56 to 15. Fifty-five Democrats and 1 Republican voted for the bill. 3 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against the bill. Three Democrats and 1 Republican did not vote.

When the results were posted, cheers broke out from observers in the House galleries and representatives on the floor of the House. Legislators broke out into a singing of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

Very shortly thereafter, Governor Chafee (I) publicly signed the bill on the south steps outside the House.

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Admission of same-sex couples to marriage:

Same-sex couples will be able to pick up their marriage licenses on 2013-AUG-01. Those who were "civil unionized" can upgrade their relationship to married. No more civil unions will be performed, although couples who already have a civil union can retain it.

Rhode Island has become the tenth state to allow same-sex couples in the U.S. to marry. Other political jurisdictions that give same-sex couples access to marriage are currently: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington State.

Together they represent 16.1% of the population.

The next state to legalize SSM will probably be Delaware.

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Reactions to the SSM law:

  • Webmaster's comment:

    At first, I was at a loss to understand the testimony in the House of the three persons who opposed SSM. I could not wrap my brain around how raising LGBT youths with the expectation that they will form loving, committed, same-sex relationships and eventually marry -- perhaps to raise children, and hopefully to grow old together -- results in a moral decline across the state. -- particularly since LGBTs probably only constitute about 10% of the population. But then I realized that most religious and social conservatives are still convinced that homosexuality is a choice that people make and that it works something like an addiction. By allowing LGBTs to marry, same-sex attraction will certainly become more accepted in Rhode Island society. Most conservatives probably still believe that more people will then choose to abandon heterosexuality and join the LGBT community. Many of these will form same-sex relationships. and marry. Since most conservatives regard same-gender sexual activity as a horrendous sin irrespective of the nature of the couple's relationship, they might well believe that the moral standards in Rhode Island will precipitously decline as LGBTs marry.

    I remain concerned about those religious conservatives who genuinely fear that God hates homosexuality and is planning to retaliate against the people of Rhode Island -- perhaps by some natural calamity -- because their government redefined marriage. American society is under enough stress now, without having religiously generated fear added to the stress level.

  • Chad Griffin heads the pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign. Influenced by the entire Republican caucus in the Senate voting for the SSM bill, he said:

    "Today's vote shows that marriage doesn't belong to a particular party or ideology, and increasingly, the public and politicians alike realize that only marriage provides loving couples and families with the protection they need and deserve."

  • Marc Solomon, national campaign director for pro-equality group Freedom to Marry said:

    "That the entire Rhode Island Senate GOP caucus joined with a vast majority of Democratic lawmakers to live up to the state's values in voting for marriage will inspire more momentum in more states. It is time now for the Supreme Court to uphold these American values for all loving and committed couples."

  • Christopher Plante, the regional director in the state for the National Organization for Marriage -- a group opposed to marriage equality -- said:

    "Redefining marriage into a genderless institution to satisfy the demands of a small but politically powerful group is bad enough, but besides advocating a flawed policy, HB 5015 and SB 38 contain a shocking lack of religious liberty protections." 2

    When he uses the terms "religious liberty" or "religious freedom," Plante is not using the conventional meanings of the terms -- the freedom and liberty to hold religious beliefs, to meet and associate with others freely, to proselytize freely, etc. He is referring to the new and emerging meaning: one's freedom to denigrate and oppress others based on one's religious beliefs. Here he is specifically referring to individuals or heads of companies who supply a service in the marriage industry to the general public. This includes wedding photographers, wedding cake bakers, owners of halls suitable for wedding receptions, limousine services, etc. Sometimes these individuals and companies have run afoul of state anti-discrimination laws 5 which prohibit commercial interests from discriminating against potential couples on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

Actually, human rights laws have been a type of "double edged sword" when it comes to discriminating against the LGBT community. On one hand, companies have occasionally been hauled up before a state human rights tribunal, charged with discrimination, found guilty, and fined. But often their customer base has increased precipitously as homophobes -- non-LGBT persons among the public who want to discriminate against the LGBT community -- preferentially search out such discrimatory groups to obtain wedding services.

  • Salvatore Cordileone, Roman Catholic archbishop of San Francisco and chairperson of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, wrote:

    "The meaning of marriage cannot be redefined, because its meaning lies in our very nature. Therefore, regardless of what law is enacted, marriage remains the union of one man and one woman — by the very design of nature, it cannot be otherwise. ... [Marriage equality is] a serious injustice. ... [The acceptance of anything other than heterosexual marriage endangers children] the most vulnerable among us. [Society must preserve] in the law the principle that every child deserves a mother and father united in marriage." 3

  • Thomas Tobin, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, wrote a pastoral letter to Catholics in the state. He said, in part:

    "I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize 'same-sex marriage.' The Catholic Church has fought very hard to oppose this immoral and unnecessary proposition, and we are most grateful to all those who have courageously joined us in this effort. When all is said and done, however, we know that God will be the final judge of our actions.

    As I have emphasized consistently in the past, the Catholic Church has respect, love and pastoral concern for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction. I sincerely pray for God’s blessings upon them, that they will enjoy much health, happiness and peace. We also offer our prayerful support to families, especially parents, who often struggle with this issue when it occurs in their own homes.

    Our respect and pastoral care, however, does not mean that we are free to endorse or ignore immoral or destructive behavior, whenever or however it occurs. Indeed, as St. Paul urges us, we are required to 'speak the truth in love.' (Eph 4:15) ..."

    "Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others." 4

  • Webmaster's comments (Bias alert):

    The Diocese of Providence invited their web site readers to post their personal response to the Bishop's letter. 4 Almost a week had passed since the letter was posted and nobody had yet commented -- at least none had been published by the Diocese. I decided on MAY-08 to submit the following as a individual and to express my personal views. My letter is thus very different from articles that I write on this web site, where I generally withold my personal opinion. The response has been "awaiting moderation" for a little over a week now. It looks as if it will never be shown on the Diocese's web site. It appears below:

    "I found the letter to be confusing.

    Lesbian and gay adults in RI now have two main lifestyle choices:
    - to have random sex with strangers which can be argued is immoral and ultimately destructive, or
    - to seek out a person to develop a relationship with, to love and make a commitment to and ultimately to marry.

    IMHO, only in the latter lifestyle can they attain all that they are capable of becoming. Thus I feel that the Church should promote same-sex marriage for gays, lesbians and bisexuals while promoting opposite-sex marriage for heterosexuals and bisexuals.

    I also feel that it is very important to differentiate between:
    - what God’s word actually says, and
    - what the Church interprets God’s word as saying.

    It is important to notice that other intelligent, devout, and sincere Christians have reached the conclusion that the Bible condemns anal rape, same-gender sexual behavior in Pagan temples, child sexual molestation, people engaging in sex that is a violation of their sexual orientation, and people who engage in bestiality. But none of these “clobber passages” in the Bible relate to sex between two persons of the same gender in a committed relationship.

    Regardless of the above, I feel that each faith group, including the Catholic Church, should have the religious freedom to decline to marry any couple for any reason.

    And above all, I would urge that the Church plan to convene Vatican III to handle and consider revisions to every policy and belief of the Church involving some aspect of human sexuality. The Church is causing a lot of pain and driving people from the Church because of its views on birth control, artificial insemination, abortion, in-vitro fertilization, sexual orientation, gender identity, pre-marital sex, marriage and divorce."

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2013-AUG-01: RI: Couples marry:

When government offices opened at 08:30. same-sex couples started picking up their marriage licenses for the first time. The first at Newport, RI, were Federico Santi and John Gacher who have been together for 41 years. They married immediately after receiving their license. More details.

Facing heavy opposition by the Roman Catholic Church, in this highly Catholic state it took 16 years of effort to finally pass a same-sex marriage bill. Rhode Island became the final New England state to legalize SSM.

Sen. Donna Nesselbush, sponsored the same-sex bill and is the only openly lesbian state senator. She planned to be at Pawtucket City Hall to greet the couples. She said:

"As the only openly gay [Rhode Island state] senator and as the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate, [Thursday] is a day that I wish to remember both professionally and personally." 6


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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 could be next to approve gay marriage," Associated Press, 2013-
  2. Rhode Island becomes tenth state to make same-sex marriage legal," CNN, 2013-MAY-02, at:
  3. Trudy Ring, "Catholic Leaders Denounce R.I. Marriage Equality Law,", 2013-MAY-06, at:
  4. Letter to Catholics on the Approval of “Same-Sex Marriage” in RI," Diocese of Providence, 2013-MAY-02, at:
  5. "Anti-Discrimination Law in Rhode Island," Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, 2010-DEC-08, at:
  6. Ben Brumfield, "Midnight vows: Same-sex couples ring in new lives as law takes effect," CNN, 2013-AUG-01, at:

Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN-15
Latest update: 2013-AUG-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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