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R.I. Senate committee approves marriage bill

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

A Rhode Island Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the state.

The 7-4 vote came a month after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon hearing on Senate Bill 38. The Rhode Island House of Representatives in January overwhelmingly approved the same-sex marriage proposal.

“We have before us a historic piece of legislation,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored SB 38, said before the vote took place.

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, applauded the committee’s vote.

“This is an incredible and historic step forward in the campaign to ensure all loving, committed couples in Rhode Island have the freedom to marry,” he said. “We are pleased and proud that the members of the Judiciary Committee were so receptive to the thousands of their constituents who reached out and urged them to vote yes on Sen. Nesselbush’s bill.”

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but only a few dozen couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee, who supports nuptials for gays and lesbians, last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“Rhode Island currently stands as an island of inequality in our region,” Chafee said in a statement after the vote. “At this time of intense economic competition, we cannot afford to lag behind our New England neighbors and New York in this important area.”

The full Senate will vote on SB 38 tomorrow afternoon.

GOP senators back marriage bill

All five members of the Senate Republican Caucus announced their support of the proposal hours before the committee approved it.

“We support Senate Bill 38 because it rightfully extends the civil aspects of marriage to all Rhode Islanders while protecting the freedom of religion our state was founded upon,” state Sens. Dennis Algiere, David Bates, Dawson Hodgson, Nicholas Kettle and Chris Ottiano said in a joint statement. “Gay and lesbian couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, and at the same time churches, synagogues and mosques in our state must be free to exercise their faith and their sacraments as they see fit. This bill strikes the right balance and should be passed by the Senate.”

Committee members on Tuesday also voted 6-5 to kill a measure that would have placed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island on the 2014 ballot.

“Members of the committee heard from their constituents in strong opposition to putting fundamental rights on the ballot, and we thank them for defeating this divisive and harmful referendum bill,” Sullivan said.

23
Apr
2013

R.I. Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Rhode Island Statehouse, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Statehouse (Photo by Max Binder via Wikimedia Commons)

The Rhode Island state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

The 26-12 vote came a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the measure.

“Of all the bills I will ever sponsor, this will be the bill that will have the most impact on my life,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored Senate Bill 38, said before the vote. She specifically thanked Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes same-sex marriage, for allowing a vote in the chamber.

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown,) who is among the five members of the Senate Republican Caucus who on Tuesday announced their support of SB 38, said before the vote he backs the proposal because of “dignity, fairness and the rule of law.” Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) repeatedly highlighted her Catholic faith before she announced she would vote for the measure.

“I will be casting my vote on the side of love,” she said.

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but less than 100 couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee last year signed an executive order that mandated state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Senators rejected an proposed amendment to SB 38 by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would have placed the issue before Rhode Island voters in 2014. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday struck down the Providence Democrat’s referendum bill by a 6-5 vote margin.

Other same-sex marriage opponents also spoke out against SB 38 before it passed.

“The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman,” state Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) said. “God’s word places me in opposition to Senate Bill 38.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives, which in January overwhelmingly approved its own same-sex marriage bill, is expected to grant final approval to SB 38 on May 2 once it goes through the House Judiciary Committee.

Chafee has said he will sign the bill into law.

“Pending the final vote by the House of Representatives, Rhode Island will no longer be an outlier in our region,” the governor said in a statement. “We will have the welcome mat out. We will be open for business, and we will once again affirm our legacy as a place that is tolerant and appreciative of diversity.”

State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who introduced the same-sex marriage bill in the House, also welcomed SB 38′s passage.

“For the many Rhode Islanders who have been waiting all their lives for equality and recognition that they deserve the same rights and responsibilities as their neighbors, today is a great relief,” he said. “At last, marriage equality is going to happen.”

Same-sex marriage is expected to become legal in Rhode Island on Aug. 1.

24
Apr
2013

Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill becomes law

Lincoln Chafee, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

“Today we are making history,” he said. “We are living up to the ideals of our founders.”

Rhode Islanders United for Marriage Campaign Director Ray Sullivan, gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) and other same-sex marriage supporters joined Chafee on the steps of the State House in Providence as he signed the measure into law. The state House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill by a 56-15 vote margin less than an hour before the signing ceremony.

“This law does not take anything away from a heterosexual couple,” lesbian state Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said. “Nothing is going to change, but tomorrow morning for gays and lesbians it’s going to be a very, very different world.”

State Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) referenced her gay brother when she spoke in support of the measure.

“I rise in support of love in the state of Rhode Island,” she said.

Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence,) who introduced a bill that would have prompted a same-sex marriage referendum in 2014, once again spoke against nuptials for gays and lesbians before the vote.

“There is no man made law that can ever replace, supplant, suppress or subjugate the natural law,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence urged Rhode Island Catholics in a letter that will run in its newspaper on May 9 they should “examine their consciences very carefully” before they decide to “endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies.”

“Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’” he writes.

Christopher Plante, regional director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, also criticized the bill’s passage.

“Redefining marriage into a genderless institution to satisfy the demands of a small but politically powerful group is short-sighted policy that fails to take into account the rights and needs of the generations to come,” he told the Providence Journal before Chafee signed it into law.

Rhode Island is the 10th state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians can legally exchange vows in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut as well as in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Iowa, Washington and D.C. The Delaware Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the First State.

“This is a great day in Rhode Island,” Fox said. “It is also a wonderful day for the generations of future Rhode Islanders who may never know a time when some people didn’t have all the same rights as others, and who hopefully will grow up wondering how on earth that ever could have been the law.”

“Governor, with the stroke of your pen, you will undo centuries of discrimination,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who introduced the bill in the state Senate, added before Chafee signed the measure into law. “Our moment has arrived.”

Rhode Island’s same-sex marriage law will take effect on Aug. 1.

02
May
2013

R.I. lawmakers introduce same-sex marriage bills

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

Two Rhode Island legislators on Thursday introduced bills that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Ocean State.

“We are long overdue,” state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who has introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives each year for more than a decade, said. “Rhode Island, the colony founded on the principle of personal liberty, is now the only New England state that doesn’t allow same-gender couples equal marriage. Rhode Islanders recognize that same-gender couples deserve the rights and responsibilities that other couples already enjoy, and support has been getting wider every year.”

Openly lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.

“After many years, I have finally found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, the woman I want to marry,” she said. “We are both spiritual and want to deepen and strengthen our devotion. We are deeply in love, and are hoping and praying for marriage equality so we can tie the knot. But this is not about me or us. This is about the thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples who want and deserve the right to marry.”

Nine states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage.

Less than 50 couples have taken advantage of Rhode Island’s civil unions law since it took effect in July 2011. The Ocean State remains the only New England state without a same-sex marriage law.

Forty-two members of the House have co-sponsored the measure in their chamber, while 11 state senators signed onto Nesselbush’s proposal. Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said he remains committed to bringing the measure to a full vote by the end of this month.

Nesselbush said Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, has also pledged to allow a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“With nine states, the District of Columbia and the president of the United States all embracing marriage equality, we have never been closer,” Nesselbush said. “Let this be the year Rhode Island joins the burgeoning force for equality that is sweeping our nation.”

Ray Sullivan, campaign manager of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, applauded the lawmakers who introduced the measures. He noted to the Washington Blade on Thursday that 53 of the state’s 113 legislators signed onto the measures as co-sponsors.

“We’ve been working and building towards this moment for a very long time,” Sullivan said. “The momentum is palpable and it’s great to see so many pro-equality legislators standing up for equal rights for all loving committed couples.”

Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order last year mandating state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states. He has publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians, and said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if one were to reach his desk.

04
Jan
2013

Chafee: Same-sex marriage is ‘long overdue’ in R.I.

Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks at a press conference on Monday that announced a coalition of groups in support of the state’s same-sex marriage law. (Photo courtesy of Christian Vareika)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday said that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples is consistent with the civil and religious liberties his state’s founding fathers sought more than three centuries ago.

“First of all, it’s again coming back here in Rhode Island with another effort to pass what we should have passed a long time ago, considering our history as the first really to have tolerance in the colonies of the New World,” the governor told the Washington Blade a few hours after he joined other elected officials and advocates at a Providence church where they announced a coalition in support of the same-sex marriage bills state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) and lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced earlier this month. “Roger Williams fled persecution and then enshrined here in 1663 in a royal charter granted by King Charles II, really the first liberties in civil and religious areas ever not only in the New World, but in the world. We’re celebrating the 350th anniversary of that 1663 charter this year, so we’re all getting reacquainted with those liberties that granted those many years ago.”

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the same-sex marriage bill later today.

Chafee, who signed Rhode Island’s civil unions bill into law in 2011 in spite of his own misgivings about it, signed an executive order last year ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut and other jurisdictions. In spite of this mandate, Rhode Island remains the only New England state in which gays and lesbians cannot tie the knot.

“So many of us feel that this is long overdue here in Rhode Island the fact we’re trailing other New England states in passing marriage equality is added incentive to get it done this year on the 350th anniversary of the charter,” the governor said.

Chafee, a former Republican U.S. senator who became an independent before his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, spoke with the Blade less than a week after White House spokesperson Shin Inouye reaffirmed President Obama’s support of nuptials for gays and lesbians in response to a question about Rhode Island’s same-sex bills. Inouye also told the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper late last month that the president would vote for a same-sex marriage bill in the Illinois State Legislature if he were still a member of it.

Obama’s re-election campaign in late October urged voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington to support same-sex marriage referenda in their respective states. It also urged Minnesotans earlier in the year to vote against a proposal that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in their state’s constitution.

All three same-sex marriage referenda passed on Nov. 6, while Minnesota voters struck down the proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned nuptials for gays and lesbians in their state.

“Well you know better than I do what’s happening around the country, especially in the 2012 elections in the referenda that were out there and the success marriage equality had,” Chafee said in response to whether nuptials for same-sex couples in Rhode Island would resonate beyond New England. “I don’t know if it’s too earth-shattering when Rhode Island finally gets on board, but being a very heavily Roman Catholic state — we’re the most heavily Roman Catholic state in the country — that message would be important, that even our Roman Catholics here support marriage equality. And that is true.”

Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said earlier this month he remains committed to bringing the same-sex marriage measure to a full vote in his chamber by the end of January. Though she is opposed to nuptials for gays and lesbians, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) has also pledged to allow a vote on the issue in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“They’re on the fast-track in the House,” Chafee said. “Here in Rhode Island in the Senate we’re counting the noses. I would hope that they deal with it quickly and let’s move on to the economic issues and other issues. I see this is also is an economic issue, but let’s pass this and I’ll sign it and we’ll tackle some of the more thornier issues out there.”

Chafee further referenced Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who was then-Senate President Pro Tempore of his state’s legislature in 2009 when his chamber voted 26-4 to approve a same-sex marriage bill, in spite of predictions that the margin would have been far closer.

“He said, let’s just call the roll. Just call the roll. Stop hemming and hawing and it was 26-4,” Chafee said. “That was back in 2009. I would think it would be even stronger here now. Call the roll. And that’s what I said at the press conference: Call the roll on history; Call the role on the rights of our gay, lesbian friends and neighbors and loved ones; call the roll on the economy and the economic issues that are important here.”

15
Jan
2013

R.I. Senate committee holds hearing on marriage bills

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

The Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday held a marathon hearing on a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“I am your teammate and it’s just not right the way our laws currently discriminate against me in my earnest desire to marry Kelly,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who introduced Senate Bill 38 in the Senate, said during the start of the hearing that lasted more than 12 hours. A member of the audience booed the lawmaker after she spoke about her partner.

Governor Lincoln Chafee stressed the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples would benefit the state’s economy — Rhode Island’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the country.

“We need to grow our economy,” Chafee said. “Now’s the time to end this discrimination in Rhode Island against gays.”

State Treasurer Gina Raimondo referenced her husband and two young children during her testimony in support of the same-sex marriage bill.

“Every Rhode Islander deserves the same civil rights we have,” she said. “Every child deserves the same rights our children have to grow up within the context of a loving married couple.”

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown) referenced former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman and the more than 100 other Republicans who signed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in the case that challenges the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8. He also cited former Vice President Dick Cheney and other members of the GOP who back the issue during his testimony.

“The freedom to marry represents the basic conservative values of responsibility and fidelity,” Hodgson said.

Kelly Frederick of the Alliance Defending Freedom said marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples in Massachusetts, D.C. and Illinois “forced” Catholic Charities in the three jurisdictions “out of the adoption business because of their religious beliefs.” Rev. Bernard Healey of St. Luke’s Church in Barrington testified against Senate Bill 38 on behalf of the Diocese of Providence.

“Marriage should not be redefined,” he said. “It radically redefines marriage for everybody in the state.”

The committee heard testimony on the same-sex marriage measure and Senate Bill 708, a measure sponsored by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would place a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in the state on the 2014 ballot, less than a week before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases that challenge Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but only a few dozen couples have taken advantage of it. Chafee last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Ciccone is among those who spoke in support of SB 708.

“What people do in their bedrooms can never compare to what African Americans went through during slavery,” state Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) said as he criticized comparisons between the same-sex marriage movement and the civil rights struggle. “The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman.”

State Sens. Leonidas Raptakis (D-Coventry) and James Doyle (D-Pawtucket) were among the SB 708 co-sponsors, but they removed their names as supporters earlier this week. Doyle also announced he will vote for the same-sex marriage bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

State Sen. Nicholas Kettle (R-Coventry) on Wednesday announced he too would no longer back Ciccone’s bill.

“Since this bill was introduced, thousands of Rhode Islanders have called their senators and urged them to take a stand against this divisive legislation,” Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, said. “The proposed referendum bill is neither a compromise, nor an ‘eminently reasonable’ solution to the question of allowing all Rhode Islanders to marry the person they love.”

22
Mar
2013