Gay Marriage Bill Introduced At General Assembly, Passage Likely

EG's three legislators don't sign on to co-sponsor the bills – 42 in House, 11 in Senate do.

For 10 years, Cranston Rep. Arthur Handy introduced a bill every legislative session that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

This year, his bill might actually get passed as House Speaker Gordon Fox has pledged to put a vote to the floor by the end of the month.

Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, introduced the bill in the Senate.

The legislation has broad support, with 42 members of the House signing on as sponsors and 11 members of the Senate.

East Greenwich's three legislators – Rep. Anthony Giarrusso (R-Dist. 30), Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-Dist. 35), and Sen. Lou Raptakis (D-Dist. 33) – were not among the co-sponsors. Giarrusso, elected in November, said in debates he did not support gay marriage. Hodgson voted in favor of civil union last year. 

“We are long overdue. 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. We know this can pass the House this year, and we know that Governor Chafee will sign it if we get it to him. This bill is about ending discrimination and creating true equality for all Rhode Islanders, promotes family stability and it affords plentiful protection for religious freedom. For the sake of all of those families who hang in the balance, we need marriage equality now,” said Handy, a Democrat.

Nesselbush, a second-term senator who is openly gay, took the lead in the Senate this year after the retirement of the perennial Senate sponsor, former Sen. Rhoda E. Perry. Nesselbush said the issue is “intensely personal” for her as well as thousands of other Rhode Islanders, and a matter of being on the “right side of history.”

“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. 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,” said Nesselbush. “I take my work and my civic responsibilities very seriously, and it’s ironic that I am qualified to be the chief judge of the City of Pawtucket and a state senator but somehow not qualified to marry.  If my conservative father were alive, even he would say ‘That’s just plain wrong and there ought to be a law.’ I implore my colleagues to join me in casting a vote on the right side of history…. The train has left the station. Marriage equality is inevitable. Young people cannot even understand why this is an issue. A crescendo is building, and most Rhode Islanders want us to enact marriage equality.”

Speaker Fox, who is also gay, was the first co-sponsor listed on the House bill. He has indicated he is interested in bringing it before the full House for a vote early in the session. A vote is expected in the Senate Judiciary Committee if the vote passes the House. The legislation, which will be assigned to each chamber’s respective Judiciary Committee, has never previously come out of committee for a vote on the floor of either chamber. 

“Senate President [M. Teresa] Paiva Weed has honorably promised that there will be a vote on the issue, and with nine states, the District of Columbia and the president of the United States all embracing marriage equality, we have never been closer,” said Senator Nesselbush. “Let this be the year Rhode Island joins the burgeoning force for equality that is sweeping our nation.”

The legislation removed gender-specific language from the section of the general laws that governs eligibility for marriage. It added language that would allow any person to marry any other eligible person, regardless of gender.

Additionally, it included language stating that marriage is recognized by the state to promote stable relationships and provide important legal protections to couples and their immediate and extended families.

The bill reiterated constitutionally guaranteed freedom for religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith, and stipulation that under no circumstances will clergy or others authorized to perform marriages be obligated by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage.

“Regarding religious freedom, no religious organization should or will be required to perform a wedding that is contrary to their faith. At the same time, no faith that does support marriages between people of the same gender should be barred from performing them either. Our current law is actually violating their religious freedom,” said Handy.

Rhode Island passed a law in 2011 allowing civil unions for same-gender couples as a compromise measure, but relatively few have taken advantage of it, and many have criticized civil unions as a less-than-equal offering to same-gender couples.

In September, a WPRI poll of 501 likely voters in Rhode Island found that 56 percent of Rhode Islanders support same-gender marriage, and 36 percent oppose it.

The sponsors of the bill in the House include:

  • Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston)
  • House Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence)
  • Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence)
  • Rep. Elaine A. Coderre (D-Dist. 60, Pawtucket)
  • House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello (D-Dist. 15, Cranston)
  • Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence)
  • Rep. Frank G. Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick)
  • Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket)
  • Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown)
  • Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence)
  • Rep. Larry Valencia (D-Dist. 39, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton)
  • Rep. Thomas Palangio (D-Dist. 3, Providence)
  • Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett)
  • Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (Dist. 21, Warwick)
  • Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston)
  • Rep. Karen MacBeth (D-Dist. 52, Cumberland)
  • Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth)
  • Rep. William O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence)
  • Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown)
  • Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence)
  • Rep. Lisa P. Tomasso (D-Dist. 29, Coventry, West Greenwich)
  • Rep. Agostinho F. Silva (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls)
  • Rep. Donna M. Walsh (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, Westerly)
  • Rep. Katherine Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence)
  • Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln)
  • Rep. Linda Finn (D-Dist. 72, Middletown, Portsmouth)
  • Rep. Cale P. Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester)
  • Rep. Gregg M. Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence)
  • Rep. Scott A. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence)
  • Rep. Dennis M. Canario (D-Dist. 71, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton)
  • Rep. Peter F. Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport)
  • Rep. Scott J. Guthrie (D-Dist. 28, Coventry)
  • Rep. Joy Hearn (D-Dist. 66, Barrington, East Providence)
  • Rep. Jeremiah T. O’Grady (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket)
  • Rep. Maria E. Cimini (D-Dist. 7, Providence)
  • Rep. Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren)
  • Rep. Robert E. Craven Sr. (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown)
  • Rep. Donald J. Lally Jr. (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett)
  • Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence)
  • Rep. Mary Duffy Messier (D-Dist. 62, Pawtucket)
  • Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick)
  • Rep. William San Bento Jr. (D-Dist. 58, Pawtucket).

The sponsors of the bill in the Senate include:

  • Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket)
  • Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham)
  • Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence)
  • Sen. Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence)
  • Sen. Christopher Scott Ottiano (R-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol)
  • Sen. Erin P. Lynch (D-Dist. 31, Warwick)
  • Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence)
  • Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich)
  • Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick)
  • Sen. Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln)
  • Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence).
Alicarn January 04, 2013 at 05:03 PM
This needs to pass. Equal rights for all.
Bill Pett January 04, 2013 at 06:19 PM
The time has come for this act of simple justice to pass. Promoting stable relationships is good and healthy for all society. Furthermore, we need this to truly have freedom of religion. No congregation, no clergyperson that opposes gay marriage should be forced to perform such ceremonies, but by the same token, churches like mine that support gay marriage should be free to perform such marriages.
Rep. Dan Gordon January 05, 2013 at 08:02 AM
You are VERY welcome! It was an honor to serve! http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/11711-rhode-island-house-defends-constitution-passes-anti-ndaa-resolution Rep Dan Gordon
Bill Pett January 05, 2013 at 11:58 PM
Rep Gordon's comment seems unrelated to the gay marriage issue. Perhaps he meant to respond to a different thread.
Dan Johnson February 10, 2013 at 05:48 PM
It should be obvious requiring residents to cross the state line so they may have a legal marriage at home is irrational and counter productive. Let them have their wedding in their own community, and spend those wedding bucks at home, rather than in state next door. The only excuse for denial of legal equality relies on an irrational prejudice supported by nothing more than a few mistranslated and misinterpreted ancient bible verses taken out of context. This prejudice fails to provide any legitimate governmental interest sufficient for denial of equal treatment under the law as promised in the founding documents and required by the 5th and 14th amendments to the constitution.


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