By Greg Berman -
Gay rights activists took to the Statehouse Tuesday where they held a boisterous rally opposing House Speaker Gordon’s Fox’s recent decision to drop gay marriage legislation in favor of a bill supporting civil unions.
Fox defends his decision as pragmatic one, not a philosophical one, arguing that a full-fledged gay marriage bill had no possibility of passing the senate.
Gay marriages supporters were nonetheless displeased with what they saw as a sign of betrayal and political cowardice.
“This legislation codifies the idea that lesbian and gay families can be treated differently,” said Martha Holt, chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), which organized the event.
“Separate is never equal, we are not second class citizens and we demand to be treated equally,” Holt declared. She concluded by making a call for continued political activism, asserting that “MERI isn’t going anywhere,” and that they plan to organize “in every district and county of this state,” until the next election cycle comes around.
Supporters remain hopeful
Despite the circumstances of the event, participants maintained a determined and hopeful attitude. Some protestors lined the street behind the Statehouse, soliciting honks of support from passing cars, while others took to the stage to lead the crowd in hymns of solidarity.
Larry Bacon and Dave Burnett, two Newport men who have been in a relationship for over 30 years, spoke about some of the practical difficulties of living in state that didn’t recognize their relationship.
“In all but name I have a marriage based on mutual respect, support and love,” said Bacon, who then went on to detail the problems he’s encountered when it’s come to managing joint finances, obtaining medical procedures, and preparing his will. “It’s not about an expansion of rights or a redefinition of an arcane word, but about the equitable treatment of all members of our society,” Bacon said.
UPDATE: After the rally, MERI issued a statement praising state Rep Art Handy, D-Cranston for submitting an amendment to the civil unions bill, substituting language granting civil unions with marriage equality language.
“On behalf of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, our volunteers and thousands of supporters, I want to thank Representative Handy for ensuring our voice will be heard inside the Statehouse and for sending the message that we will not be appeased by second class rights,” said Holt. “As citizens of this great state we deserve to know where our elected officials stand on this critical matter of civil rights. Because of Representative Handy’s amendment, we will find out.”
Handy was one of the original sponsors of the gay marriage bill.