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Religious Tolerance logo

Same sex marriage (SSM) in Rhode Island

2008:  Attacks by governor and
bishop; House committee hearing

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2009-APR-14: Governor Carcieri denounces SSM:

Governor Carceire, a Republican, announced his support for the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) -- a group that opposes marriage equality and has mounted a campaign against SSM. He said:

"What I don't want to see happen with this issue is what's happening is courts deciding things or legislatures deciding things this is such an important issue I think its should be put to the voters. In Massachusetts it was the court. In Vermont it was the legislature. I believe the issue ought to be dealt with by all of our citizens. ... And let them decide." 1

This raises a rarely discussed issue of civil rights: What percentage of adults in a state should be required to identify a specific group of citizens and reduce them to second-class status through the elimination (or continued elimination) of one of their foundational human rights -- the right to marry the person that they love and to whom they have made a life-time committment? There seems to be a impression that it only takes a 50% vote plus one voter. But if that is true, then nobody's human rights are safe. After all, everyone is a member of at least one minority group. If it only takes a bare majority of voters to wipe out a minority's rights then everyone is vulnerable to attack.

2009-APR-23: Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin attacks SSM:

In his column in the Rhode Island Catholic publication, Bishop Tobin criticized the acceptance of SSM by the Catholic laity. He wrote:

"And what's the typical response of Catholics in Rhode Island? 'As long as it doesn't affect me, I really don't care what other people do,' you say. 'We shouldn't judge other people,' you demur. 'The Church is losing its influence. I don't think there's anything we can do,' you rationalize."

"Well, my friends, gay marriage will affect you and you should be concerned. ..."

He argues that the state should follow the Roman Catholic Church's definition of morality, rather than accept the definitions of more liberal religious organizations. He wrote:

"[It] ... is our firm belief -- based on the natural law, the Bible and consistent religious tradition -- that homosexual activity is unnatural and gravely immoral. It's offensive to Almighty God. It can never be condoned, under any circumstances. Gay marriage, or civil unions, would mean that our state is in the business of ratifying, approving such immoral activity. And as I've written previously: The state shouldn't be placed in that position, and as a citizen of the state I don't want that imposed on me and my conscience. Neither should you."

"Second is the fact that gay marriage seeks to radically redefine the most fundamental institution of the human race, the building block of every society and culture. From the beginning, marriage has been defined as the stable union of man and woman, designed by God to continue the human race through the procreation of children. Homosexual relationships are not marriage -- never have been, never will be."

"Proponents of gay marriage say that the Church won't be forced to witness such marriages.  Don't believe it."

"And other related problems will inevitably arise.  Will the Church be required to admit gay couples as sponsors for baptisms; to rent its facilities for gay wedding receptions; to hire employees despite their immoral gay lifestyles; to grant family benefits to gay couples?"

"For simply maintaining its teachings in these and many other possible scenarios, the Church will be accused of bigotry and unlawful discrimination. The threat to our religious freedom is real, and imminent." 2

Webmaster's note: (Personal opinion, bias and lack of objectivity warning)

Our group's policy is to report the news impartially. We don't normally add our own comments to our essays. However, I would like to make an exception in this case by adding two comments to Bishop Tobin's comment:

bulletMany conservative religious leaders are closely identifying procreation as the main purpose of marriage. Being male and having remarried late in life, I am distressed at the Bishop's implication that my marriage may not be a true marriage because my wife and I cannot procreate.
bulletIf current trends persist, then homophobia -- discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation -- will be generally accepted as being as profoundly evil as is racism and sexism. The Church can thus expect to be increasingly accused of bigotry in future years. However, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that discrimination by the church is not unlawful. There is no threat to the freedom of religious groups who wish to discriminate on any basis. Of course, the church can expect to experience a loss of parishioners who reject the church's stance against oppressed minorities.

2009-MAY-12: House Judiciary Committee hearing on SSM bills:

The Rhode Island News eloquently reported that:

"Hours before the House Judiciary Committee hearing began, they jammed the room in the same awkward intimacy that has played out around the region in recent months and years."

"Priests in clerical collars and children with rosary beads sat beside gay couples who huddled with their own children between them."

"Supporters spoke of basic fairness and equal protection under the law, while critics cited a need to protect what they call 'the institution of traditional marriage' from alternate interpretations."

Two bills were discussed:

bulletH5744, which would make SSM available to all loving, committed couples, whether of the same or opposite gender. The bill is cosponsored by 31 of the 75 members of the House. 3
bulletH5608, which would amend the state Constitution to prohibit SSM. It would submit a new section to be added to the Constitution:

"Section 25. Marriage: Marriage shall be recognized and defined in Rhode Island as a lawful union between one man and one woman. 4

bulletAngela Mazaris attended the hearing with her partner and 9-month-old daughter and invited those opposed to SSM to spend a day with her family. She testified:

"Please join us for our family meals. Come with us on our walks, and join us at our playgroup. Sit with us while we read Goodnight Moon and rock our daughter to sleep at night. And then, after that, look me in the eye and tell me that my family is not worthy of equal protection under the law."

bulletBernard Healey, lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, said that opposition to SSM is not a form of discrimination. He testified:

"It has been and continues to be the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church as well as the existing state law that marriage is the union of a man and a woman."

bulletRepresentative Frank Ferri, (D-Warwick), a married gay man, testified:

"It is embarrassing and insulting that I have come before you again to beg for the constitutional right of Rhode Island's citizens to marry the people we love." 5

As in previous years, the Committee took no action on the bills.

General Assembly adjourned:

On 2009-JUN-29, the General Assembly adjourned, abandoning two bills -- one on each side of the issue -- until the legislature resumes meeting in September.

CitizenLink, a news service from the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family reported:

"Advocates for special rights for homosexuals are looking to pave the way to full-fledged gay marriage. Family advocates are trying to introduce a marriage-protection amendment." 6

In unbiased language, this would read:

"Advocates for marriage equality hope to pave the way so that all loving, committed couples would be able to marry. Those who promote opposite-sex marriage and wish to discriminate against same-sex couples are trying to introduce discrimination into the state constitution via an amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage."

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Rhode Island Gov. Denounces Same-Sex Marriage, Throws Weight behind Marriage Campaign," LifeSiteNews, 2009-APR-16, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  2. Thomas Tobin, "Rhode Island, Most Catholic State, Welcomes Gay Marriage," Rhode Island Catholic, 2009-APR-23, at: http://thericatholic.com/stories/2089.html
  3. "An act relating to domestic relations -- persons eligible to marry: H 5744," 2009, State of Rhode Island, at: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/ This is a PDF file.
  4. "Joint Resolution to approve and publish and submit to the electors a proposition of amendments to the Constitution of the state (Marriage)," 2009, State of Rhode Island, at: http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/ This is a PDF file.
  5. Cynthia Needham, "Hearing revives R.I.'s gay-marriage debate," Rhode Island News, 2009-MAY-13, at: http://www.projo.com/
  6. R.I. Still Only N.E. State Without Gay Marriage," CitizenLink news release, 2009-JUN-06.

Copyright © 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-24
Latest update: 2009-JUL-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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