May 3, 2011
By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
Providence, RI – Supporters of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island vow to keep fighting for full marriage equality despite the introduction of a civil union’s bill.
Over 200 people gathered Tuesday at the State House in Providence for a spirited rally.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, stunned members of the LGBT community last week when he said there would be no vote on a marriage equality bill this legislative session. Hearings were held on the bill by the House Judiciary Committee in February and the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.
A same-sex marriage bill has been introduced every year since 1997 but has never made it out of committee for a floor vote. Marriage equality advocates had hoped this year would be different.
However, one of the state’s top leaders, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport) opposes same-sex marriage. Paiva-Weed does support civil unions and praised Fox for changing his position on the issue. Paiva-Weed had accepted a $500 donation from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which spent $400,000 in the last few months in an effort to defeat same-sex marriage.
Rep. Peter Petrarca (D-Smithfield) introduced the civil unions bill on Tuesday afternoon. However, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) introduced an amendment to the bill which would replace the language granting civil unions with that which would provide full marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Speakers at Tuesday’s rally said civil unions were an inadequate substitute for full marriage rights for same-sex couples and vowed to keep fighting.
“There’s still a tremendous amount of work to do,” said Martha Holt, Chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI).
“We are not second class citizens and we deserve to be treated equally,” Holt noted.
Openly gay State Rep. Frank Ferri, standing alongside his husband Tony Caparco, blasted Fox for going back on his promise to bring a same-sex marriage bill to a vote.
“We are hurt and betrayed,” Ferri said. “I am very angry.”
Some of the rally participants expressed similar sentiments about Fox.
Steve Isherwood of Providence said same-sex marriage supporters were blindsided by Fox’s decision.
“He should’ve talked to us first,” Isherwood said. “That’s why he let us down.”
Newport couple Larry Bacon and Dave Burnett, who have been together for 34 years, explained the benefits which marriage provides.
“Dave and I have a marriage based on mutual respect, caring, and love,” said Bacon. “We’re here to ask for equitable treatment from the people we elected to represent us.”
“We’re not going to sit in the back of the bus,” Bacon noted.
Annie Cronin-Silvia and her wife Melanie recalled the joy of their wedding day. The couple, who live in Rhode Island, had to cross the border to get married in Massachusetts.
“I only wish we could have been married in our home state,” said Cronin-Silvia.
Handy, who appeared at the rally, told the crowd of the praise he has received from residents in his district for his support of marriage equality.
“They know this is the right thing to do,” Handy said, noting he was “disappointed” by Fox’s decision to back civil unions.
Handy urged marriage equality activists to keep fighting.
“We are all in this together,” Handy added.