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Providence Mayor on Gay Marriage

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Cicilline: Change the marriage laws, don't break them

Providence's mayor tells a URI conference that he prefers to push for legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.

BY SCOTT MacKAY

Journal Staff Writer - Friday, March 26, 2004

SOUTH KINGSTOWN -- Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline is a strong supporter of gay marriage, but don't expect the openly gay mayor of Rhode Island's largest city to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Cicilline told a University of Rhode Island audience last night that the best way to change the state's laws to make same-sex marriages legal is to work for enactment of gay-marriage legislation being considered at the General Assembly.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's policy of issuing marriage licenses to gays may be the best way to push the issue in California, but Cicilline said he he favors a less confrontational route in Rhode Island.

"I have always been a proponent of changing the law rather than breaking it," said Cicilline, who testified earlier this week at the State House in support of gay marriage. "You can't do something just because you want to raise the issue."

Cicilline's comments came in a well-received keynote speech at the 10th annual URI conference on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Intersexed Issues. Last night's session at Edwards Auditorium drew about 60 people.

The conference continues today with a series of panel discussions at Galanti Lounge on the URI campus.

In a brief interview after his speech, Cicilline said Rhode Island's gay community has been wise to lobby at the State House and closely monitor the issue in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that gay couples should have the same marriage rights as heterosexual copules; gay marriages are scheduled to start in the commonwealth on May 17.

"Our Supreme Court is not the same as Massachusetts," said Cicilline. But if Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, Rhode Island courts may have to recognize them, said Cicilline, a lawyer.

Cicilline urged gay-rights activists to run for office, lobby for legislation that would expand gay rights and work strenuously to oppose measures designed to ban gay marriages.

"I am well aware that not long ago, it was not possible for an openly gay man or women to win election for public office," said Cicilline. "In 1976, when organizers held the first gay pride march in Providence, the city's police chief, Walter McQueeney, said of the march, 'This is the first time they've marched and I hope the last. It's a disgrace.' "

"How much has changed since those days?" Cicilline asked. "A lot. Especially when you consider that every morning, I -- a gay man -- go to work in my office at Providence City Hall, because 84 percent of the voters believed I could make a difference."

Cicilline looked back fondly at his 2002 mayoral victory and said political campaigns by openly gay candidates have helped make society more accepting of gay people.

'In fact, campaigning for this office was a way to change hearts and minds," said Cicilline. "Every day I go to work as an openly gay mayor, I hope that I'm helping to raise awareness.

"It's hard to believe, but as little as 20 years ago, national polls found that 84 percent of Americans said they did not know a single gay person," said Cicilline.

"Today a majority of Americans say they have gay family,friends or acquaintances," said Cicilline. "There is, without a doubt, a direct correlation between increased visibility and increased calls for equality for members of our community.

"It's easy to demonize someone you've never met," said Cicilline. "It's harder to demonize your neighbor, your coworker, your uncle or your daughter."

Cicilline hammered President Bush for his support of a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages. And the mayor had harsh words for Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a gay daughter, Mary Cheney.

"Just look at the way Vice President Cheney squirms when he voices support for President Bush's policy to write discrimination into our nation's Constitution, betraying not only millions of Americans but his own daughter," Cicilline said.

"And last week, Bush restated his determination to a Colorado evangelical Christian convention that Mary Cheney should never be allowed to marry the love of her life," Cicilline said. "This is wrong, and history will not look kindly on these attacks on gay couples and families."

While he acknowledged that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, does not back gay marriage, Cicilline, a strong Kerry supporter, noted that Kerry does support civil-union measures that extend all the legal rights of heterosexual unions to gay couples.

"All of us, gay and straight alike, who love freedom and justice, have an obligation to engage others about the issues of employment quality, safe schools, realistic and comprehensive HIV/AIDS education. And legal recognition for same-sex couples providing each and every one of the state and federal rights given to married heterosexual couples," he said.

From The Providence Journal

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Anything that deflects from the fact that a marriage amendment looks dead in the water in Massachusetts, is a good thing. When May 17th comes it will be a whole new ballgame!

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I'd like to see a change where government gets out of the marriage business. Marriage should be left to the religious bodies of the nation, and we should start to call everything civil unions for legal recognition when speaking of the state.

Both gay and straight couples should have equal access to civic unions, IMHO. Marriage is so dated...

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Marriage is all we have. If we could, I suppose it would be good to strip the word marriage from the secular institution. But imagine if gays and lesbians went to the public and said, "we have an idea, let's not any of us be married, let's all have civil unions." I don't think most people would embrace that, just as gays and lesbians are not now embracing that option for themselves.

We have a governmental institution that protects couples and families, and stabilizes them within society. There's no need to create something new, or re-brand what we already have. Simply open the secular institution to gays and lesbians (religious marriage has been open to gays in some faiths for years) and let's get on with our lives.

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Anything that deflects from the fact that a marriage amendment looks dead in the water in Massachusetts, is a good thing. When May 17th comes it will be a whole new ballgame!

Mayor Cicilline has made it clear that he is not opening the doors of city hall to gay and lesbian couples like Mayor Newsom in San Francisco did. However, he has said that if any same gender couples apply for a marriage license in Providence, he will instruct the City Solicitor to determine the legalities of issuing it. Right now, it is unclear if gay-marriage is actually illegal in Rhode Island. It was never actually illegal in Massachusetts, in other words, there was no specific law in Massachusetts that prohibited same-gender marriage, only gender specific paperwork and tradition stood in the way. Cambridge considered issuing gay-marriage licenses immediately following the SJC decision in November, the plaintiffs in the Goodridge case asked them to wait out the 180 day SJC imposed waiting period.

Several things could happen in Rhode Island come May 17th.

1. We could have our own General Assembly pass the current marriage bill. This seems highly unlikely in an election year (or any year for that matter), but people on Smith Hill have said that recent events, and testimony to committees have been changing some Assembly Members views.

2. We could have the Doma (anti-gay-marriage) bill pass in Rhode Island, also seems unlikely, public opinion seems to be against this quite strongly.

3. We could go to Massachusetts and get married, then challenge the state to recognize our Mass. marriages. Romney is trying to block the May 17th marriages, but people on both sides of the issue don't see how he can do anything about it. He could also ban out of state couples from marrying based on an archaic law prohibiting the issuing of marriage licenses to couples whose marriages would be illegal in their home state. The plaintiffs in the Goodridge case promise to fight this. Massachusetts is not in a position to determine what would and would not be legal in another state, and gay-marriage may not actually be illegal in Rhode Island (unless a Doma law is passed before May 17th).

4. If the General Assembly does not pass a Marriage Bill, and if Romney blocks out-of-state residents from getting married in Massachusetts, the pressure gets put on Cicilline to issue licenses.

Whatever happens, May should be an interesting month!

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We had a gay marriage rally this evening at the Rhode Island State House, among the speakers were several members of the General Assembly, the President of Stonewall Democrats (a Rhode Islander), members of the communty, a Rhode Islander who was at the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, Survivor star Richard Hatch (a Rhode Islander), and oh yeah, the House Majority Leader came out of the closet...

House Majority Leader Fox announces he's gay

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE -- House Majority Leader Gordon Fox today told a crowd of more than 150 supporters of same-sex marriage that he is gay.

The Providence Democrat made the announcement prior to a House of Representatives committee hearing on bills on both sides of the gay marriage debate.

"I've been in a committed relationship with a man for six years and I am gay," Fox said. "It's the first time I've publicly announced that and it's an important message to get out.

"We are in these (elected) positions to lead," he said.

Fox supports a bill that would allow same-sex marriages. Another competing bill defines marriage as between a man and woman.

The debate over gay marriage moved to the House today, with a committee hearing on bills on both sides of the issue.

A Senate hearing last week attracted more than 100 people and dozens of speakers supporting or opposing same-sex marriage.

Legislative hearings in Rhode Island and other states have been spurred by a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in November, which allows gay couples to marry. Same-sex weddings will become legal in Massachusetts in mid-May.

This week, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would ban gay marriage but legalize civil unions. Citizens would vote on the amendment in November 2006, at the earliest.

Rhode Island's House Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear four bills dealing with same-sex marriage and benefits for domestic partners.

Before the hearing, more than 150 supporters of gay marriage held a rally in the State House rotunda.

"The people who represent us ... need to know one thing, Rhode Island will have gay civil marriage," said Chris Butler, executive director of AIDS Project Rhode Island. "Our day is coming," he said to loud applause.

Miniature wedding cakes were delivered to each member of the House and Senate committees that will debate the bills this year. Labels on the box read: Wedding Cake ... $500, Marriage License ... $24, Civil Rights ... Priceless.

The rally was in support of a bill introduced by Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, that would allow same-sex marriages. Members of the clergy would not be forced to officiate at the wedding ceremonies.

Rep. Victor Moffitt, R-Coventry, has introduced a competing bill that would define marriage as between a man and woman. The bill would also ensure that any gay marriages approved in other states would be illegal in Rhode Island.

Currently, 38 states have laws that define marriage solely as a heterosexual institution.

Moffitt, a tax accountant, said his goal is to "clearly define what marriage is, so there is no interpretation in the courts."

He said he's received harassing phone calls and been threatened with a boycott of his business, which he said hasn't suffered.

"I feel the compassion and emotion of the gay and lesbian community; they want some of the marriage rights," he said. "But what happens is things like this can be easily abused."

Moffitt gave an example of someone agreeing to marriage just before their death to allow a partner to claim federal benefits.

But Moffitt sees no problem with efforts to grant specific benefits to domestic partners, including allowing them to recover damages in cases involving wrongful death and to be eligible to collect a one-time death benefit.

The House committee was also scheduled to hear bills on both those issues.

From The Providence Journal

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