Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Editorial: 2013 — the new 1963

In 1644, eight years after Roger Williams founded the colony of Providence Plantations, he composed an essay titled “A Plea for Religious Liberty” in his great opus The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace. “All civil states,” Williams wrote, “with their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors or defenders of the spiritual or Christian state and worship.”

Now, 369 years after the essay’s publication, we quote Rhode Island’s founder for the sake of the state’s future. Last week, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage by an overwhelming margin of 51 to 19. But legalizing same-sex marriage now hinges upon a looming vote in the state Senate. We implore the Senate, and especially State Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-R.I., to make Rhode Island the 10th state in the nation and the last state in New England to end marriage discrimination.

During the civil rights era, leaders such as Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin — the latter of whom was homosexual — forced a country accustomed to Jim Crow laws to speak openly about racism and its detrimental effects on American society. The mere fact that issues such as segregation of academic institutions and grandfather clauses became a part of public discourse made it impossible for future generations to grow up thinking de jure or de facto racism were the norm.

This should be the inevitable future of gay rights in the United States. President Barack Obama, himself the product of an interracial marriage — an institution that was only fully legalized by the Supreme Court in 1967 — spoke candidly about equal rights in his second inaugural address, saying, “Our (nation’s) journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Of course, the Supreme Court is taking on two landmark cases on federal and state laws this spring in Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry, respectively. The former will debate the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, but the latter, which deals with California’s Proposition 8, may be more important. According to the Washington Post, should SCOTUS rule that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, it “will effectively enshrine the federal constitutional right to marry, meaning …  all statutes banning gay marriage (would eventually be) ruled unconstitutional.”

Rhode Island, which like its founder has been historically progressive, does not need to wait for the Court’s prodding to act on gay marriage. The words of Williams and Obama echo a sentiment that embraces all people. This sentiment demands more than mere tolerance. It necessitates action.

Paiva-Weed, a devout Catholic, has been long opposed to gay marriage, a stance that reflects her deep personal faith. But it should be noted that not too long ago, Catholics, who also make up one of the state’s largest constituents, were mistrusted in politics for fear of loyalty. It is only because we have progressed as a nation that Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, raised in the Watchtower Society (now Jehovah’s Witness), and John F. Kennedy, a Catholic like Paiva-Weed, were accepted as fully American.

Must every race, religion or love controversial to its time undergo this arduous path to acceptance? If the Senate president and other legislators in this heavily Catholic state cannot reconcile faith with public service on the issue of gay marriage, it would betray the hard-won trail paved by other great American leaders once considered outsiders.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Dan Jeon, and its members, Mintaka Angell, Samuel Choi, Nicholas Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.