Same-sex marriage supporters packed the State House yesterday at a Marriage Equality Rhode Island rally.
Buoyed by the election of Governor Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14, who has publicly voiced his support for marriage equality, the group is pushing for the passage of a bill introduced this January that would legalize marriage for all couples regardless of gender.
A rally against legalizing same-sex marriage, hosted by the National Organization for Marriage, directly preceded the marriage equality rally. Maggie Gallagher, chair of the National Organization for Marriage, Senator Harold Metts, D-Providence, and Rep. Raymond Hull, D-Providence, were scheduled to speak at the rally.
About 300 supporters waving signs turned out to show their support for the marriage equality bill. The total attendance exceeded the State House's capacity, causing an L-shaped line to spill out of the State House and onto Smith Street.
Expectations for the newly sworn-in governor were high. Supporters of the bill draped a banner inside the State House bearing a recent quotation from Chafee: "When equal marriage is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality."
Chafee did not attend the rally.
The rally featured speakers such as Senator Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Providence, and Rev. Eugene Dyszlewski, chair of the Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality. The speakers sounded a consistent theme of support for equal marriage rights, reiterating their faith in Chafee's resolve and a need to press forward.
"Don't give up. Don't give up. Let your voice be heard at the State House today," said Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth.
Students were also in attendance, including members of the Brown Democrats and queer alliances.
Jean McCabe '14 said she was confident about the future of gay rights in Rhode Island. "I think that this is the year we're probably going to get marriage equality," McCabe told The Herald. "It's only a matter of time."
"It's a matter of fairness and justice," said Rachel Cocroft, a local supporter of equal marriage rights. "I hope it brings Rhode Island into the 21st century."
Twenty to 30 anti-gay marriage advocates were peppered through the crowd. One such advocate, Jackie Archambealt, told The Herald she was there to "support traditional marriage."
"I'm a born-again Christian, and the definition of marriage should be the way that God intended it to be: between a man and a woman," she said.
Other counter-protesters included remaining members of the anti-gay marriage rally and former Providence mayoral candidate Chris Young. "Same-sex marriage violates the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States — the establishment clause," Young told The Herald. "The government may not redefine the religious meaning of our belief."
Kyle Marnane, a volunteer for Marriage Equality Rhode Island and a student at Johnson and Wales University, has been working for the organization since October. "Hopefully this shows the General Assembly that marriage matters," Marnane said, "and that marriage equality needs to happen now."
The legalization of gay marriage is not the only bill dealing with the issue that has been introduced to the General Assembly. Another bill has been put up for consideration that would put legalization on the ballot in November.
"We do not want (a referendum) to happen," Marnane said.