Ocean State politicos seek marriage equality
With California becoming the second state in the country to allow same-sex marriages, activists in the Ocean State vow to fight on.
Hearings on four separate bills were held before the House Judiciary Committee last month. One bill was the "Compassion for All Families Act," which would provide domestic partner benefits such as family medical leave and funeral planning to same-sex couples. Another was a bill which would allow same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts to obtain a divorce in state courts.
However, a vote on any of the bills during the current legislation session does not appear likely, according to Jenn Steinfeld, director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI).
Although the House did pass a comprehensive trans inclusive bill, Steinfeld believes that may be the only "gay bill" that is passed this year.
Steinfeld believes the recognition of same-sex marriages in California will provide much-needed momentum in the fight for marriage equality in the Ocean State.
"As California has no residency requirements to issue marriage licenses, Rhode Island couples are able to travel there to marry," says Steinfeld. "It is important that married Rhode Island same-sex couples be visible in their marriages, as nothing helps change the hearts and minds of all Rhode Islanders than personal connections."
Public opinion regarding same-sex marriage has evolved considerably during the last four years, Steinfeld noted. "With marriage equality in Massachusetts having just celebrated its 4th anniversary, it's not the great unknown that it was five years ago."
Steinfeld says hundreds of Rhode Island same-sex couples are married, and the state and most major employers are showing those marriages the respect they deserve.
Even more significantly, there is greater political support for marriage equality than ever before. 35 members of the General Assembly have sponsored marriage equality legislation this year. Rep. Frank Ferri(D-Warwick) recently celebrated the second anniversary of his marriage
to Tony Caparco, and they were recognized on the floor of the House.
"The prospect for marriage equality looks better all the time," says state Rep. Edie Ajello (D-Providence). "I think it will look even better after the November election when Californians have rejected the constitutional amendment against marriage equality."
The state's top leaders, including Governor Don Carcieri, a Republican, House Speaker William Murphy (D-West Warwick), and Senate President Joe Montalbano (D-North Providence) all oppose same-sex marriage.