Anti-Gay Marriage Group Has Rhode Island Love-In

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday August 17, 2009

A celebration of marriage and families--strictly heterosexual ones--attracted hundreds to a lavish estate overlooking Narragansett Bay in Warwick on Sunday. The event was the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) latest salvo in their ongoing crusade against same-sex marriage in the Ocean State.

NOM fights R.I. marriage

NOM wants to make sure Rhode Island does not join the other New England states in allowing same-sex couples to be wed.

A number of Catholic clergy addressed the crowd, extolling the virtues of marriage - between a man and a woman, of course.

The "Wedding Renewal Ceremony" unfolded with dozens of heterosexual couples renewing their vows of love and commitment to each other.

But not everyone felt like celebrating.

Across the street from the Aldrich Mansion were members of the Providence Equality Action Committee (PEAC), a coalition of organizations devoted to winning equal rights for the LGBT community. The group of 25 demonstrators
held signs condemning anti-gay discrimination. Some passing motorists honked their horns in support.

Earlier in the day, members of Queer Action of RI (QuARI), staged their own protest outside the mansion.

NOM members explain their motives

Kathy Kushnir, the Executive Director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI),
acknowledged the lush grounds and seaside setting of the Aldrich Mansion was undoubtedly a draw for many of the event’s attendees.

However, Kushnir said there is a lack of awareness about what it is that NOM represents.

"People aren’t educated well-enough about what NOM stands for," Kushnir said, noting the group was "exclusionary."

Kushnir said one of MERI’s goals was to promote a message of equality to the state’s residents.

One guest questioned by EDGE had no animosity for gays and lesbians.

"I don’t want to hate anyone," said a guy named Dave, who admitted to being puzzled by the marriage of two men or two women.

"You can’t produce children that way," Dave explained.

For the participants at NOM’s first annual Celebrate Marriage and Family Day, the focus was on having a good time.

Many attendees sprawled out on the grassy hills behind the mansion and took in the gorgeous view of the Bay, while others listened to the sounds of the bands playing. There were also pony rides and games for children.

’It’s an odd event’

NOM’s mission - to promote marriage between heterosexuals only, was visible everywhere.

On a table were NOM pamphlets, bumper stickers, and T-shirts with the NOM logo. Lots of young NOM volunteers patrolled the grounds in golf carts. There was a sign-up sheet for a "Second Honeymoon Giveaway" raffle and a "Family Vacation Giveaway" raffle. A group of Franciscan friars mingled with the assembled guests.

Sponsors of the event included CareNet Rhode Island, Shine - a Christian radio station, and the Catholic Diocese of Providence, which owns the Aldrich Mansion and grounds.

Although the weather was sunny and pleasant, the event did not go off without some bumps along the way.

Last week, doughnut chain Tim Horton’s withdrew their sponsorship, explaining the company does not sponsor events affiliated with religious or political groups.

Another listed sponsor was Blount Fine Foods, which also dropped out of the event.

But NOM was not disturbed at all by the loss of sponsors and pressed forward with their message.

Maggie Gallagher, the President of NOM, addressed the crowd to state the importance of preserving marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

"There’s something special about bringing two halves of humanity together - male and female," Gallagher said, noting marriage was "a sexual union."

Gallagher was seemingly unfazed by the protests from the LGBT community.

"It’s an odd event," Gallagher told EDGE, explaining Celebrate Marriage and Family Day was not "a religious event".
NOM, based in Princeton, New Jersey, boasts of being "the largest source of funds" for California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state.

Support from Catholic Church

Earlier this year, the organization ran a television commercial called Gathering Storm. The much-mocked ad was the subject of endless parodies on YouTube.

Last week, Christopher Plante, the head of the Rhode Island chapter of NOM, told EDGE the Celebrate Marriage and Family Day event will be "an open family and fun time that celebrates marriage between a man and a woman."

Plante said gays and lesbians were more than welcome to attend the event.

However, a few days later, Plante issued a newsletter listing the rules of the event, which prohibited grills and outdoor cooking, pets, costumes, masks, or outrageous clothing, and swimming in the bay.

Any hope that same-sex married couples could participate in the "Wedding Renewal Ceremony" were dashed when Plante included this statement:

The vow renewal is for couples who are eligible for marriage licenses under current Rhode Island law. Singles and others are welcome to watch from the sides.

"Once again we’re being asked to stand on the sidelines while heterosexual couples enjoy the privileges of marriage," said QuARI’s Susan Heroux.

Earlier this year, Governor Don Carcieri, a Republican, threw his support behind NOM’s efforts to prevent same-sex marriage from becoming a reality in the state.

For the 12th year in a row, the state legislature did not vote on a bill which would’ve allowed same-sex couples to wed in the Ocean State. Part of the reason for a lack of progress on the issue is the state’s high concentration of Roman Catholics and the influence of the Providence Catholic Archdiocese, which has vehemently condemned same-sex marriage.

Plante was pleased with the success of Celebrate Marriage and Family Day, although he acknowledged receiving phone calls from some people who were scared from attending due to the possibility of protests.

"We look forward to doing this next year," Plante told the crowd. "We hope to make it even bigger."

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.