PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Rhode Island House of Representatives, led by openly gay Speaker Gordon Fox, today passed a bill that supports marriage equality.
The House voted 51-19 to approve the measure.
Rep. Joseph M. McNamara told a personal story of holding a lesbian couple's twin daughter, looking at the happy little girl, and saying that's when it dawned on him that marriage equality was also family equality. McNamara said the twins deserve the same equality of any straight family, and that by providing marriage equality was the right thing to do.
Rep. Arthur J. Corvese, a Catholic Democrat who loudly and angrily railed against the bill and against gay activists and the ACLU, shouted out all the usual suspect arguments on why same-sex marriage will open Pandora's box for marriage. He said marriage isn't about gay rights, or civil rights, or about love, but about procreation. He also used the phrase, "the criminal media," leading one pundit to utter, "Is this man crazy?"
Rep. James N. McLaughlin attempted to substitute an amendment to the bill to essentially gut it and keep marriage between a man and a woman. He gave a rambling and incoherent speech, then the parliamentarian ruled that his amendment was not germane and was out of order.
Rep. Joseph Almeida, who is Cape Verdean American who was born in Providence, said the issue was a "civil rights struggle" and told opponents of the bill, "don't divide us."
Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry said he supported the bill and urged the Senate not to play politics with their vote on the measure, accusing the high chamber of drawing up a wish list to use a vote on the marriage bill as a bargaining chip.
Openly gay Rep. Frank Ferri, who said he and his husband (they were married in Canada) have been together for 32 years, called today: "This is an exceptional moment, and it's taken a long time." He praised Speaker Fox for his patience since 1997 in getting to this moment in Rhode Island history.
The marriage bill now goes to the state Senate, where its President, Teresa Paiva Weed, a Democrat, opposes the measure. Weed, however, has agreed to allow a vote, which may take weeks or months before it clears the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since 1997, similar legislation has been weighed by the General Assembly and until today never advanced to a floor vote.
Rhode Island, which legalized civil unions last year, is the lone New England state without marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.
The state’s top leader, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, is in favor of marriage equality and opposes any efforts to put the issue on the ballot, saying that human rights should never be decided by voters.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.