Gay Couples Marry in RI, Despite Westboro Backlash
Same-sex couples across Rhode Island lined up at their city and town halls Thursday morning to obtain marriage licenses. Though it was an incredibly happy day for the couples, the vehemently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church tried to stomp on their special day by holding a protest.
Four Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) members picketed Cranston, Providence and Pawtucket city halls, as well as outside the State House, where same-sex couples were saying their "I dos." The small group of protesters also picketed at Brown University. They were greatly outnumbered, however, as hundreds of counter-protesters shouted to "go back to Kansas" - WBC’s headquarters.
"We’ll follow them until they get out of the state," said Brandy Pimental, a retail manager who joined the counter-protest outside the State House. "They have no business here."
Last May, the Ocean State joined the other New England states in legalizing same-sex marriage. It is among the 13 states in the country in the United States that recognize marriage equality.
The fight to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples began when the first marriage equality bill was introduced in 1997. Past bills had never made it out of their respective judiciary committees, however. A civil unions bill was passed and signed into law in 2011.
On Thursday evening, out House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) officiated at the wedding of State Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Warwick) and his husband Tony Caparco at a lavish ceremony held at Harbor Lights in Warwick, where over 300 people, including friends, family, and marriage equality activists, cheered Ferri and Caparco, who have been together for 32 years and were married in Vancouver in 2006, as they exchanged vows. Fox called Ferri and Caparco’s wedding was a "celebration of equality and justice."
Among the guests at the ceremony were Governor Lincoln Chafee (D), who signed the gay marriage bill into law, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (R), former State Senator Rhoda Perry who is a staunch advocate for LGBT rights, State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston), who had sponsored the marriage equality bill in the House and Ray Sullivan, the executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
The number of couples seeking licenses appeared to be small compared with what other states have seen. In Massachusetts, more than 1,000 same-sex couples got married on the state’s first day of same-sex marriage in 2004. Advocates said the turnout is different here because Rhode Island couples have long had the option of marrying in neighboring states.
Warwick issued six licenses for same-sex couples and one for a heterosexual couple, said City Clerk Maria Ahlert. In addition, three same-sex couples had their civil unions "merged" into marriage licenses, she added. Cranston issued three licenses for same-sex couples, four for heterosexual couples and "merged" three civil unions into marriages, said City Clerk Maria Wall. Additionally, Pawtucket issued two licenses, including the one for Byrnes and Mitchell, and one couple "merged" their civil union into a marriage, the clerk’s office said.
87 couples had obtained civil unions since 2011, when they were first made available.
Meanwhile, opponents of same-sex marriage protested at several locations throughout the state.
New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM) issued a statement, noting it was a "sad day" for Rhode Island and Minnesota, which also saw its first same-sex marriages this week.
"Today Minnesota and Rhode Island embark on a new path that jettisons the interests of children from their state marriage law, and puts people of faith in harm’s way for being punished for their beliefs. We will work tirelessly to hold the politicians accountable for this travesty," said Brian Brown, NOM’s President.
National LGBT rights groups celebrated the latest states to allow same-sex couples to wed.
"Today over 90 million Americans now live in states with full marriage equality," said Human Rights Campaign national field director Marty Rouse. "As we march toward full LGBT equality nationwide, Rhode Island serves as a shining example of the progress being made, and the growing support for fairness that exists all across this country."
Rouse noted HRC was an integral financial and strategic player in winning marriage in the Ocean State.
"In Rhode Island, HRC provided significant financial investment, staff and technical resources over many years to amplify the historic grassroots effort of the Rhode Islanders United for Marriage coalition."