350 rally at Rhode Island State House in support of marriage for same-sex couples
With New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch's decision to sign a bill into law last week to extend marriage to same-sex couples, Rhode Island remains the only state in New England to not allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.
An estimated 350 people gathered on the steps of the State House in Providence on Saturday for a spirited rally in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians. And participants were quick to express their frustration over the Ocean State's failure to jump on the regional marriage bandwagon.
"We have waited long enough," state Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Warwick) told the crowd as he stood alongside his husband, Tony Caparco. "The time for equality is now."
Ferri cited public opinion polls that the majority of Rhode Island citizens support marriage for gays and lesbians. A recent Brown University poll showed 60 percent of the respondents back gay marriage in the state.
"The momentum is on the side of equality," Ferri added.
State Senator Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) urged supporters to speak to their legislators about the issue and to keep lobbying lawmakers.
"We will be on the right side of history," Miller said.
Unlike past rallies, some speakers pulled no punches in expressing their anger at the stance of gay marriage opponents.
Ken Fish spoke out against "cowardly and homophobic" legislators, such as House Speaker William Murphy (D-West Warwick) and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport,) who oppose marriage. He further lambasted Gov. Don Carcieri for imposing "his personal religious views" on Rhode Islanders.
Earlier this year, Carcieri and his wife, Sue, have backed the National Organization for Marriage's efforts to ban nuptials for same-sex couples in the Ocean State.
Carcieri, a Republican, has pledged to veto any marriage bill, even if it was passed by the state legislature. Carcieri's term expires in 2011.
Two of the Democratic candidates who are running to succeed him, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Attorney General Patrick Lynch, both support the issue.
Fish also criticized House Majority Leader Gordon Fox (D-Providence,) who is one of Rhode Island's only openly gay state legislators. Fox was not in attendance at the rally.
"(Fox) has become part of the problem and not the solution," Fish said. "We need courage, not cowardice from our political leaders."
A handful of members of NOM's state chapter also attended the rally.
NOM executive director Christopher C. Plante accused marriage supporters of a "last gasp effort to hijack the legislative session." in an e-mail late last week.
"Let the media and your representatives know that there is a strong majority of engaged Rhode Islanders who do not want marriage to be redefined; who do not want the institutions of husband and wife, mother and father, to be degraded in any way; and who are concerned for the religious liberties of our state's faith communities and business leaders who desire to stand up for their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman," he wrote.
Kathy Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, added she believes the passage of marriage bills in the other New England states will lend a greater sense of urgency to the fight in the Ocean State.
"There's no reason for all Rhode Islanders not to be treated equally," she said.