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R.I. Catholics Remain Divided Over Marriage Equality

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Wednesday Mar 9, 2011
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Marriage equality efforts in the Ocean State received a major boost when Congressman James Langevin announced on March 5 that he now supports allowing same-sex couples to the knot.

Langevin, a staunch Roman Catholic who holds socially conservative positions on abortion and other issues, had previously supported civil unions-but not marriage for same-sex couples.

"Three years ago, I attended the commitment ceremony of a longtime staff member and his partner of nine years," said Langevin in his statement. "Before their friends and family, they professed their love, commitment and respect for each other. Their sentiments were just as moving, heartfelt and sincere as any of the vows I had heard at other weddings, yet I realized that their union would not be treated the same under the law. That difference struck me as fundamentally unjust, and I began to challenge the wisdom of creating separate categories of rights for certain groups of citizens. I began to see that civil unions fell short of the equality I believed that same-sex couples deserved."

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony for and against a marriage equality bill last month, while the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the same measure on Thursday, March 10.

House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said a committee vote could take place this week. Governor Lincoln Chafee has urged lawmakers to support the bill.

"As the General Assembly considers this important topic, I ask lawmakers and all Rhode Islanders to honor our state’s founding principles of tolerance and freedom and to support marriage equality in our state," added Langevin. "It’s time to do the right thing."

LGBT activists quickly praised Langevin for his change of heart.

"I think this is a great development and hope other lawmakers can evolve toward full equality as well," said Wendy Becker of Providence. "My guess is there are many legislators who are privately supporting us but haven’t been ready to take a public position. Hopefully his opinion piece will help them do just that."

The Rev. David Martins of St. Therese Old Catholic Church in Providence, which is affiliated with the North American Catholic Church, also welcomed Langevin’s announcement. "The entire purpose of marriage is to invoke the Holy Spirit on the couple so they can have the grace they need to be faithful to one another, and to strengthen their commitment," he said. "A gay couple needs that as much as any other couple."

The Roman Catholic Church and the National Organization for Marriage have both voiced their opposition to nuptials for same-sex couples. NOM has run television and radio commercials encouraging voters to contact their legislators and urge them to put the issue on the ballot, while claiming as many as 80 percent of the population wants to vote on marriage for same-sex couples.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence criticized the Obama administration’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.

"The President’s incomprehensible and misguided decision should also serve as a call to action for citizens of Rhode Island who are currently confronting a similar attempt to impose same-sex marriage on our state," he said in a Feb. 23 statement. "The Catholic Church in Rhode Island will redouble its efforts to protect and promote the traditional values of marriage and family that have been given to us by God and serve as the foundation of our culture."

There are a number of religious leaders in Rhode Island, however, who support marriage for same-sex couples.

"As a religious leader, I will not rest until marriage is available for all, regardless of gender," The Rev. Gene Dyszlewski, pastor at Riverside Congregational Church in East Providence, told EDGE. "I sanctify marriages. I will continue to borrow a church in Massachusetts until Rhode Island law is changed."

Dyszlewski heads the Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, a group of more than 100 clergy from various denominations. Christopher Plante, executive director of NOM’s Rhode Island chapter, remained adamant in his opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians.

"The facts remain clear; the legalization of same-sex marriage has had profound impacts on states and families, and will have similar impacts in Rhode Island if the Legislature redefines marriage," he said.

NOM is encouraging their Rhode Island supporters to testify at the March 10 hearing. The organization is also urging them to pray that marriage for gays and lesbians will not become a reality in the Ocean State.

"The entire process needs to be bathed in prayer, not only for the outcome, but for the peace and productivity of the proceedings," reads a message on NOM’s web site.

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

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