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Campus groups urge legislators to act

The Brown Democrats, the Queer Alliance and other groups are phone banking for equality

Staff Writer
Thursday, April 18, 2013

Students gather on the steps of the Rhode Island State House to rally in support of same-sex marriage. Student leaders said they are cautiously optimistic that same-sex marriage legislation will pass this year.

This article is part of the series Legislating Same-Sex Marriage

Student groups remain dedicated to promoting legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island — legislation which passed the House of Representatives 51 to 19 in January and is currently awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

The continued efforts follow a Valentine’s Day same-sex marriage rally that inspired about 200 Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students to march to the State House to encourage passage of marriage equality  legislation.

Advocates are “very close” to seeing statewide same-sex marriage legislation passed, said Sofia Fernandez Gold ’14, president of the Brown Democrats. The Brown Democrats have focused on the issue of marriage equality for the past three years, during which time members of the group have been continually “working with representatives in the House,” Fernandez Gold said.

While Brown’s campus is largely accepting of students regardless of their sexual orientations, this is not necessarily true of Rhode Island as a whole.

Identification with a certain sexual orientation does not usually pose a barrier for Brown students, but this  is not necessarily true for many people in the larger Rhode Island community, Fernandez Gold said, citing this discrepancy as the driving force behind the group’s activism.

The Brown Democrats has long-spearheaded the campaign for marriage equality, but members of other campus groups, like the Queer Alliance, have contributed to their efforts. The group’s activism centers on phone banking to raise support across the state, she said.

The Brown Democrats also partners with Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, a “broad-based grassroots coalition” with 19 partners and supporters, according to the group’s website. RIUM is “solely focused right now on passing marriage equality,” said David Driscoll, RIUM’s communications director.

“Our only job is to connect constituents and Rhode Islanders with their senators,” Driscoll said, adding that the group has seen measurable progress as a result of its efforts. Recently, the East Providence and Warwick Senate Councils have come out in support of the same-sex marriage bill  under review in the Senate.

Ashleigh McEvoy ’15, an intern at RIUM, has been involved with on-campus phone banking efforts organized in collaboration between RIUM and the Brown Democrats, focusing on about 10 senators who could potentially vote in favor of  same-sex marriage legalization, she said.

McEvoy said the state’s small size is advantageous for phone banking efforts because legislators are more likely to actually listen to their voicemails and be influenced by public opinion.

“As a college student, I think it’s really important to be involved in causes,” McEvoy said. Same-sex marriage is “possibly the most accessible pathway for LGBTQ (individuals) to gain rights.”

“The Queer Alliance is doing its best to support the Brown Democrats,” said Amara Berry ’16, head chair of the Queer Alliance. Berry said “(the Queer Alliance agrees) with marriage equality because it’s a human right” but added that the Queer Alliance “is not a political group” and does not “want to forget about other issues.”

The Valentine’s Day rally provided a valuable opportunity to “give independent students a way to support (marriage equality),” said Michelle Bailhe ’15, a member of Brown for Marriage Equality, which organized the rally. The group was formed for students who support same-sex marriage but are not members of the Brown Democrats or other activist groups, Bailhe said, adding that prior to its formation there was “no outlet for them to show they supported the movement.”

“I don’t want to look back on this and know I didn’t do anything,” Bailhe said. Same-sex marriage will be viewed as a “textbook part of history,” an important example of a minority group earning equality, she said.

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