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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Catholic Bishop Tobin lashes out at R.I. leaders for pushing gay marriage

By Philip Marcelo -

PROVIDENCE –– Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin lashed out at Governor Chafee and legislative leaders on Friday for trying to advance legislation that would legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island, suggesting that the state’s leaders should focus on job creation and the state’s economy.
But Chafee and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, who is openly gay, reiterated their support for allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. Chafee repeated his argument that gay marriage, in his view, is an economic issue.
Tobin’s comments came Friday, the day after bills to legalize gay marriage were introduced again in the General Assembly. They represent the bishop’s second public rebuke of the new governor, who took office on Tuesday.
In a Thursday column in The Rhode Island Catholic, Tobin criticized Chafee’s reasoning for not having a public prayer service before his inauguration, as had been the custom in recent inaugurations. (A Chafee spokesman told The Journal in December that the decision to forgo such a service was done out of respect for “the separation of church and state.”)
The bills, introduced by state Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, and Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, would recognize “civil marriage” between people of identical gender, while leaving religious institutions the right to refuse to participate.
Tobin, in a statement to the media, said the drive to allow same-sex marriage in Rhode Island was “morally wrong and detrimental to the well-being of our state” and called out Chafee in particular for his support of the measure.
“It is particularly disturbing that our new governor, who has trumpeted his desire to bring our state together in unity, would adopt such a very divisive agenda item as one of his first priorities,” he said. “His proposal violates the sincere conscience of many of our citizens and inflames passions on both sides of the issue. … Our state leaders could better serve all Rhode Islanders by working on initiatives that will create jobs and improve the overall economic health of our state.”
Chafee, who is Episcopalian, stood by his support of gay marriage, repeating an argument he made in his inauguration speech that permitting gay and lesbian couples to legally marry is, to some degree, an economic issue for the state.
“The status quo economically is not working. Our foundation here in Rhode Island was built on tolerance and acceptance, and this is an area I want to move our state forward on, by building on our strengths of centuries ago,” he said. “Let’s give marriage equality a chance to grow our state.”
Chafee senior adviser Stephen Hourahan said later that the governor believes that legalizing gay marriage can provide incentive for “the best and brightest” talents — especially gay and lesbian professionals — to consider relocating to the state for job opportunities. It can even help boost the wedding industry. “It’s the idea that to have it in place is a very positive thing to a state,” said Hourahan.
Fox also spoke out against the bishop on Friday. “This has been debated for decades, and it will be debated [again]. No one is saying just because we want it early in the session that it’s not going to get a full debate. Of course it’s going to get a full debate,” he said. “We’re familiar with the issue. It’s not being rushed. But at some point, at some time, you need to bring this to a conclusion, and I think this is the year to do it.”
If legislation is approved this year, Rhode Island would join Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont among the New England states that recognize gay marriage, though there is a repeal effort under way in New Hampshire.


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