Hundreds rally for same-sex marriage

Friday, February 13, 2009

Around 200 people gathered last night in the State House rotunda to rally for the passage of a gay marriage bill in the state legislature.

The Open Your Heart to Equality rally, planned by Marriage Equality Rhode Island, was part of the organization’s effort to increase awareness around Valentine’s Day every year, said Susan MacNeil, director of development and communications for MERI.

“We urge the General Assembly to finally pass this legislation,” said Richard Corso, who stood with his partner, Don Laliberte, and addressed the press before the rally began.

“We pay our taxes. Occasionally we go out to dinner and a movie. Our lives are a lot like everyone else’s,” Corso said. “However, we are denied the recognition that heterosexual couples can take for granted.”

The bill would remove gender-specific language from the provisions governing marriages in Rhode Island.

Among the attendees at the rally were about 35 Brown students who walked down together from Faunce Arch. “I’ve been doing this a while,” said Daniel Valmas ’11, who is from Pawtucket.

Valmas, a member of the Queer Political Action Committee, publicized the rally on Facebook and through tabling around campus. He said he wanted students to become more involved with politics. The legislature “can choose to hear the bill or dismiss the bill,” he said.

But for Valmas, the goal is to let the legislature know the importance of the issue and to give the students “a venue for their voices to be heard,” he said.

During the rally, Reverend Eugene Dyszlewski was joined at the podium by 10 other clergy members who represented the Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality. But Dyszlewski said he did not expect the legislature to make their decision on basis of religion. Rather, he said, “We ask the legislature to improve marriage equality because it harms no one and it’s the right thing.”

MERI also used the rally as an opportunity to present the results of a survey of Rhode Island voters. Patrick Crowley, a MERI Education Fund board member, presented the results of the poll, which recorded 49 percent of the electorate in favor of same-sex marriage, while just 37 percent opposed to it.

Even among Catholic voters, Crowley said, 45 percent are in favor of gay marriage and only 37 percent are opposed.

Crowley said he was speaking to politicians when he pointed to the survey’s finding that voters found a candidate’s stance on gay marriage relatively unimportant. Same-sex marriage ranked last, behind factors such as the economy, government spending, health care and education as issues important to voters, he said.

During the rally, a representative from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Karen Loewy, said MERI’s goal is to gain marriage equality in all six New England states by 2012.

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