The following is from Laura Kiritsy, Manager of Public Education at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in New England:
A Rhode Island State Trooper policing the building’s entrance commented late in the evening that it was the biggest crowd he’d ever seen, and indeed supporters and opponents turned out en masse to weigh in on a marriage equality bill and competing legislation that would allow Rhode Islanders to vote on allowing same-sex couples access to civil marriage rights.
Arriving at the Capitol, I had to brave a half-hour of frigid temps waiting in a massive line of people three and four abreast that stretched from the State House down the length of the plaza to Smith Street, so I missed the big rally organized by our friends at Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) and MassEquality. But the sight inside warmed my heart, as I was greeted by a throng of mostly marriage equality supporters holding colorful pro-equality signs (“Vote for Love!” “Love Thy Constituent,” “Grandparents for Marriage Equality”) aloft in the Rotunda, beneath a massive banner emblazoned with the words Gov. Lincoln Chafee spoke at his inauguration last month: “When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality.”
The marathon hearing before the House Judiciary Committee lasted from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Karen Loewy was in the packed hearing room until after midnight to deliver testimony – long after I had to hop the Amtrak home. Karen spoke poignantly and powerfully against putting the question of marriage rights for same-sex couples on the ballot, basing her testimony on what GLAD witnessed during Maine’s 2009 ballot initiative campaign. She shared how a lesbian couple from suburban Portland awoke the morning after being profiled in their local paper to find their front door, front stairs, driveway and mailbox smeared with human excrement. Though the police suspected a hate crime, the couple was too fearful to take any action on the crime.
“Unfortunately, this kind of incident was not unique,” Karen told the committee. “Nor was the impact on the gay and lesbian families of Maine solely physical. The campaign meant months of walking on egg shells, wondering if the person in front of them in the grocery store check out line was going to vote to maintain their status as second class citizens. For their children, it meant waking up the morning after the vote, and having their parents struggle to explain what this vote meant for their family. Imagine having to reassure your children that you will do everything in your power to keep your family safe and protected, knowing that a majority of people who came out to the ballot box deemed you unworthy to receive the same basic legal protections that every other family receives.”
There were plenty of high points from the testimony that I heard, but my favorite marriage equality supporters were a pair of middle-school teens — Noah Barreto, 13, and Samantha Rodriguez, age 14. Perhaps in response to opponents who believe that the only good parents are biological, heterosexual parents, Noah told the committee that he knows kids of gay parents, “and they’re just like the kids of straight parents.” Samantha spoke of the importance of creating an environment where all people would be accepted. “Being gay is not bad,” she said at one point. She wrapped up with, “All in all, I’m in support of marriage equality.” This is our future!
To be sure, there were low points supplied mainly by the anti-gay professionals. There was NOM’s sex-obsessed Maggie Gallagher: “Men and women have sex, they make babies.” Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council asserted that marriage equality would force Rhode Island taxpayers and businesses to “subsidize homosexual relationships and their higher health care costs.” The NOM-affiliated Ruth Institute’s Jennifer Roback Morse basically insisted that marriage equality would bring about the ruin of parenting as we know it, and, by the way, “the vast majority of African Americans completely reject same-sex marriage.”
“In my view, history will not be kind” to lawmakers who support marriage equality, Roback Morse told the committee. I think Noah and Samantha might disagree.
Rhode Islanders, send a message to your state legislators in support of marriage equality now and ask your friends, family members and colleagues to do the same.