"Hi, my name is Frank Ferri. I'm the state rep and I'm gay," said State Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Dist. 22, to begin his speech at Marriage Equality Rhode Island's rally at the State House Wednesday afternoon, before calling up his husband from the crowd.
Ferri was surrounded by hundreds of fervent supporters, toting signs that read anything from "Homophobia — Now That's A Choice!" to "My Church Will Marry Me, Why Won't Rhode Island?"
With not a single counter-protester to be seen, members of the crowd began to search for a method to vent their pent-up energy as they waited for the speeches to begin. A few excited supporters began a slow clap, which died down fairly quickly; others began to sing the Beach Boys song "Chapel of Love," but this, too, lasted only momentarily.
The rally was "less a protest than a gathering of supporters," said John Qua '13. He smiled. "I was hoping there wouldn't be yelling," he said.
When the speeches began, the crowd exploded in applause each time a speaker paused. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts '78, who gave one of the first speeches, happily noted the steady increase in elected officials attending MERI rallies each year. "I would especially like to point out how many candidates for governor are here today," she said to the crowd.
As the speeches continued, there was a distinct atmosphere of hope at the State House. "It is rare that we have so much love and affection here in this building. We have a great amount of hope. The work that you're doing is working," said State Sen. Charles Levesque, D-Dist. 11.
The gubernatorial candidates offered statements of their support of a same-sex marriage bill, their speeches alternating between touting the cause and promoting their campaigns.
"In marriage equality, there is no backseat," said independent candidate Todd Giroux.
"I will not hesitate to sign a same-sex marriage bill," said Attorney General Patrick Lynch '87, one of two Democratic candidates for governor. "This is about basic human rights, basic civil rights. It's about love and respect."
Kathy Kushnir, executive director for MERI, received a boisterous round of applause as she announced that "now is the time to treat all families equally." She acknowledged the cause's many supporters. "We do not do anything by ourselves," she said. "You are all a part of marriage equality."
MERI is "very excited" by the turnout, said Kim Bright, field director for the organization.
"This is an issue that people care a lot about in Rhode Island," she said.
A major goal of the rally was to gather the many gubernatorial candidates to voice "out loud" their support of same-sex marriage, she said.
Brown students had a sizeable presence at the rally. About 30 members of both Queer Alliance and the Queer Political Action Committee marched down to the State House through the chilly temperatures and snow, according to Gabe Schwartz '13.
Schwartz, who is the co-director of the political action committee and financial director of Queer Alliance, said that the groups are working hard to get people involved.
"This is a crucial year because of the gubernatorial candidates," he said. "We want to have a same-sex marriage law on the desk of the governor the day he walks in."
QPAC worked to advertise the protest through Facebook, class announcements and notices in the Queer Alliance newsletter, Schwartz said.
Jessica Mitter '13, co-director of QPAC and secretary of Queer Alliance, added that the groups have reached out to the Brown Democrats to publicize events.
Wednesday's marriage equality rally was Brendan DeWolf's '13 first. "We can just walk down the hill with a few homemade signs and hopefully make a difference," he said.