Fight for marriage equality in RI persists in 2012; but leaders are hopeful

By: Casey Rocheteau/TRT Reporter–
One thing is clear after last year’s failed attempt to pass gay marriage in Rhode Island: champions of equal rights will not accept civil unions as a second-class compromise. From the R.I. Pride Honors to politicians to the everyday advocacy of groups like Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), the issue is still very much on people’s minds. Within the RI community, many were taken aback by the abrupt change in the outcome of last year’s marriage equality bill. Seeing their hopes ultimately subverted has only fueled the fight.

Speaking with Senator Dawson Hodgson about the issue shined some light on what to anticipate for the upcoming year.
“I did not expect same-sex marriage to be such a big issue during my election (in 2010),” he recalled. “You don’t choose your times, they choose you, and it clearly became a very prominent issue. If I had to vote on marriage equality today or the status quo, I would vote for marriage equality.”

When the civil union’s bill came up in the Senate last year, he said, “I voted against it because of the Corvese language in the law, which meant that any religiously affiliated organization, including hospitals, could discriminate against civil union partners. The hospital would have the ability to disallow access to civil union partners in situations of life and death. I would have supported it as an incremental change, but with that language it was clearly discriminatory.”

MERI, one of the lead advocacy groups for marriage rights, has not slowed down by any means. Campaign Director Ray Sullivan said that for this upcoming legislative season MERI is lobbying for three bills: “different than in years past,” he said. “The access to marriage act, which is different than previous bills, because now we have to deal with civil unions being in effect. The second is the equal religious protection act — repeal the discriminatory aspects [of the] Corvese amendment. We stand by common-sense provisions that will allow religious institutions to maintain whatever their beliefs are. And then there’s the equal access to family court act — access to our judicial system is a fundamental right. Same-sex couples who were married in another state would not be allowed to dissolve their marriages in the same way that other couples can. And the children of those couples don’t have the same protections as the children of other families do.”

Both Sullivan and Sen. Hodgson agreed that marriage equality would be an important issue during this upcoming election year, and one that politicians on either side of the issue could not afford to ignore.

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