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Same-sex marriage supporters rally at State House

Disappointment, anger and resilience were among the sentiments expressed Saturday at a gay marriage rally sponsored by Marriage Equality Rhode Island. About 150 same-sex marriage supporters gathered on the south steps of the State House demanding legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Despite cold weather, a spirited crowd attended the rally, including natives of  Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and California.

Among the speakers at the rally was State Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Dist. 3, who said that because "all five other sister New England states have mandated that rights and privileges associated with civil marriage extend to all of their citizens," Rhode Island too must "move on, and ensure that the legal rights to marriage uniformly extend to all its citizens." Perry, whose district includes College Hill, has repeatedly introduced legislation in the General Assembly to legalize same-sex marriage.

Supporters were urged to take action and send postcards to their representatives — provided by MERI — declaring their support of same-sex marriage legislation.
Ken Fish, a gay rights activist and retired state education official, advised the crowd, "Don't just get pissed off. Take some action."

"I think that anger needs to be expressed, because all of us have been feeling that for a long time," said Andrew Winters, assistant to the vice president of student affairs and GLBT programs and services at the University of Rhode Island. "And this damn journey that we are on is taking too long."

Several speakers in the rally denounced Gov. Donald Carcieri '65, who said at a Thursday fund-raiser for the Massachusetts Family Institute that "gay marriage is not a civil right" and that he gets "aggravated" when people call it that. On its Web site, the MFI calls homosexuality "destructive to family, individuals and society" and supports "the healing of those plagued by a same-sex attraction."

State Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Dist. 22, a former chair of MERI and an openly gay state legislator, responded to Carcieri at the rally, saying, "Guess I know what one of my roles is at the State House: I aggravate Governor Carcieri."

Fish, the gay rights activist, said in response to the governor's remarks, that the word "aggravated" did not approach the feeling of "how deeply this loss is felt by members of our community," adding that the governor reminded him of "the Southern governors of a generation ago, attempting desperately (to defend) segregation, all in the name of tradition."

"I don't want to be healed," Fish added. "I don't think I'm sick and I don't think it's the plague. The plague is right-wing bigotry."

Fish also expressed anger toward Democratic legislators for their failure to stand up for gay rights.

"A greater villain lurks in the legislature, and it's so-called Democratic leaders," he said. "We need real progressive Democrats, not conservatives that call themselves Democrats. They would be Republicans in any other state."

Despite the governor's resistance, speakers at the rally were hopeful that in the coming years Rhode Island will join the rest of New England in legalizing same-sex marriage. Maine will hold a vote Nov. 3 to uphold or repeal its existing same-sex legislation.

"We have a lot of work to do to get us there, but it will happen," said Patrick Crowley, chair of the legislative committee of MERI. "We will always last one day longer than the other guys, because we are right and our cause is just." 

"We are making progress, and we are in a crescendo," Winters said. "It's good to see the young people working with the old people, the straight people working with the gay people, the students working with the community."

M. Charles Bakst '66, a former Providence Journal political columnist and Herald editor-in-chief, told The Herald he was glad he attended his first marriage equality rally as a supporter.

"I find these rallies both depressing and uplifting," he said. "It is dismaying to me that in 2009 there is still an argument over this. Someday not too long from now people will look back on this struggle and say, ‘What was that all about?' " 


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