The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimonies from dozens of opponents and supporters of two same-sex marriage measures Thursday night. One, which passed in the House of Representatives in January, would legalize same-sex marriage. The other would let Rhode Island voters decide the issue through referendum on the 2014 ballot.
A crowd of same-sex marriage supporters and opponents gathered in the lobby of the State House and shouted “yes” and “no” at each other in a chant that could be heard from the Senate gallery.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 — who has said he would veto the joint resolution that would put the issue up for referendum — gave the first testimony in support of the bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence and Slater, a member of the committee, followed with a religious argument against allowing same-sex couples to wed in which he called homosexuality “an abomination.”
Metts said he resents claims that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. “I can change my sexual preference tonight, but I cannot change my race,” he said.
Many testimonies referenced religion, as both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage cited the Bible, the Koran and rabbinic teachings in their arguments.
In the State House lobby, the raucous clash of protesters gave way to a crowd of opponents singing and praying in unison.
Santos Escobar, reverend at Vida Abundante United Methodist Church in Providence, led the crowd on a megaphone, singing “Cristo viene, hallelujah” (Christ is coming, hallelujah). Escobar said the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage has brought together diverse Christian groups in a unified opposition.
“White pastors, black pastors, Latino pastors — we are united against (the bill),” he said.
Other opponents of the bill argued that same-sex marriage violates religious freedom and that children’s psychological development suffers when they do not have both a mother and a father.
Chris Young — a vocal Catholic who lost the Democratic primaries in the 2010 Providence mayoral race and the 2012 race to represent District 1 in the U.S. House of Representatives — told the committee that “more and more people will die from HIV and commit suicide” if the state legalizes same-sex marriage, citing statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
But Anthony Maselli of Providence told The Herald before he testified that legalizing same-sex marriage would improve the sexual health of gays and lesbians. “When people feel marginalized, they’re less likely to take care of themselves and talk openly with their partners about sex,” he said.
Matthew Lannon, who attends the Wheeler School in Providence, talked about his two mothers. “It’s a classic love story,” he said, provoking laughter from some.
“It you spent time with us,” he said, concluding his testimony, “our family wouldn’t seem so different from yours.” Lannon’s testimony drew applause, and Sen. Donna Nesselbush ’84, D-Pawtucket, called him a “rock star.”
The committee did not vote on the marriage bills Thursday, but a vote is expected to be held in the coming weeks. Though same-sex marriage legislation has passed the House in the past, it has historically been stalled in the Senate due to opposition from leaders like Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Newport and Jamestown.