By: Joe Siegel/TRT Reporter
The members of the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee listened to testimony from supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage on Thursday.
The 5 bills included one which would allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, and another which would put a question on the ballot asking voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between one man and one woman, but allow the recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples.
Patricia Baker, who married her wife Deborah in Provincetown, told the committee about the struggle to provide her social security benefits to her spouse. Baker, who is terminally ill, was informed that due to the passage of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay and lesbian couples cannot share their social security benefits with each other.
“I only want what is due to my wife,” Baker said. “One of the reasons why the state of Rhode Island needs to pass (marriage equality) is so the federal government can see what needs to be done and what is right.”
Openly gay State Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Warwick), addressed same-sex marriage opponents, as well as the Judiciary committee in his testimony.
“I’m here because I deserve every single right that you have,” said Ferri. “This is about equality. I don’t pray to the same God that you do apparently because my God accepts me.”
Ferri has been married to his husband Tony for more than 5 years.
“I’m going to ask you to vote the (marriage equality) bill out of committee because it deserves to be debated on the Senate floor,” Ferri added.
The Reverend Bernard Healey of the Catholic Diocese of Providence said that the church intended no harm toward gays and lesbians.
“Our position to protect the definition of marriage is not an act of discrimination or bigotry but rather an acknowledgement of those united as husband and wife to have their marriage be a distinct relationship,” Healey explained.
Scott Speer, a member of the Advisory Board of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), warned of the consequences that passing a same-sex marriage bill would have on the free speech rights of same-sex marriage opponents.
“Their liberties will be put in jeopardy,” Speer said. “They will be challenged based upon their ability to freely express their conscience.”
Same-sex marriage advocates got a major boost when Rhode Island Congressman James Langevin (D) announced on March 5 that he supports allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed.
Openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) supports the legislation, as does Governor Lincoln Chafee (I), who urged lawmakers to pass the legislation while delivering his Inaugural address.
However, Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed opposes same-sex marriage. No vote on any of the bills has been scheduled.