PROVIDENCE ? Citing unprecedented momentum and urgency, a broad coalition of local and national organizations today launched Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, the campaign to win full civil marriage rights for all Ocean State families and couples in loving, committed relationships.
?Rhode Islanders United for Marriage is a broad and growing non-partisan coalition of organizations who are coming together to stand up for all families and ensure the Ocean State joins the rest of New England in providing the unique protection and recognition that only marriage can afford,? said Ray Sullivan, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign director. ?With more legislative sponsors and supporters than ever before, we believe we can win passage of this important civil rights act in 2013,? he added.
Rhode Islanders United for Marriage will also employ grassroots organizing techniques focused on giving voice to the tens of thousands of marriage supporters in every corner of the state. People from all 39 cities and towns will be invited to join with their community to speak with lawmakers about why marriage matters to all families in the state.
The event was attended by a number of local and statewide elected leaders, including Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has made passing marriage equality one of his administration?s top priorities.
?Rhode Island has been engaged in a lively experiment in freedom and tolerance for 350 years, and the inclusion of all our friends and neighbors under the aegis of civil marriage is the logical extension of Roger Williams? bold stand for liberty,? Chafee said. ?I am proud to stand with Rhode Islanders United for Marriage in calling for the General Assembly to send marriage equality legislation for my signature without delay, so that I can finally sign it, and we can better live up to our founder?s inclusive vision.?
Among the many organizations joining Rhode Islanders United for Marriage is the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, which represents more than 100 clergy and faith leaders from 13 different denominations.
?Giving all Rhode Islanders full access to marriage is an opportunity to remove roadblocks to pastoral care for those faith traditions that welcome and affirm same-sex relationships,? said Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, chair of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality. ?Christ welcomed all to His table and so, as faith leaders for equality, we hope to walk on the path He set for us – living by His example – and affirming His commitment to tolerance and justice.?
?There is broad diversity within communities of faith on this issue. That?s why this bill includes a number of commonsense exemptions that affirm a religious institution?s control over marriage eligibility within its particular faith?s tradition,? said Rev. Dr. Don Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. ?No church or clergy would be required by this law to perform or recognize same-sex marriages if they go against the teachings of their particular faith.?
The coalition also includes numerous members of the labor movement in Rhode Island, including the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, which endorsed marriage equality two years ago, the National Education Association Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 328 the Service Employees International Union, Rhode Island State Council, as well as the United Auto Workers, Region 9A.
?An injustice to one is an injustice to all and so the labor movement proudly stands in solidarity with our LGBTQ brother and sisters in the effort to win marriage equality,? said Rhode Island AFL-CIO president George Nee. ?Denying marriage equality is economic discrimination, plain and simple.?
Marriage equality enjoys wide support from everyday Rhode Islanders ? gay and straight, young and old, people of faith from a wide variety of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other traditions and people who avow no faith at all. A recent poll conducted for WPRI found 56 percent of Rhode Islanders supported granting full civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.
?When our daughter, Luisa, married our daughter-in-law, Brenda, on Cape Cod in the summer of 2010, I was as proud as I have ever been,? said Anthony De Luca, a North Kingstown resident and former public school teacher. ?Rhode Islanders shouldn?t have to leave their home in order to experience that joy.? All fathers should be able to walk their little girl down the aisle.?
Marriage equality has been a closely watched and intensely debated issue at the State House for nearly two decades. As the 2013 legislative session begins, the General Assembly has more pro-equality members serving than at any time in history. The House version of the bill has a record 42 cosponsors, while the Senate bill has 11 cosponsors.
?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,? said Senator Donna Nesselbush, prime legislative sponsor of the marriage equality bill in the Senate. ?But this is not just about us. This is about the thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples who should have the right to marry.?
?Nothing affirms love, commitment and family like marriage,? said House prime sponsor Representative Arthur Handy, who introduced this legislation for the eleventh year in a row. ?My wife and I would not want someone telling us our relationship was somehow unworthy of the recognition of marriage.? It?s time we joined our New England neighbors in affirming the ability of all loving, committed couples to have the freedom to marry.?
The House Judiciary Committee will hear the legislation on Tuesday, January 15 in Room 313 at the State House.