R.I. rallies for equal marriage

By Shaun Joseph

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--About 400 people turned out to the Rhode Island State House June 6 to rally in favor of equal marriage rights for LGBT couples.

Since New Hampshire's recent move to recognize same-sex marriages, Rhode Island remains the only state in New England that does not explicitly permit same-sex marriage, although marriages performed in other states have been recognized since 2004.

Public opinion is decisively in favor of equality. A recent poll by Brown University showed support for equal marriage at 60 percent of the population--and skyrocketing to 87 percent amongst 19- to 29-year-olds. Gov. Donald Carcieri, an increasingly right-wing Republican, would doubtlessly veto equal marriage legislation.

The problem is that although the Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state's General Assembly, two backward Democratic leaders, Rep. William Murphy and Sen. Teresa Paiva-Weed, refuse to let the legislation even come out of committee.

The rally was called and MCed by state Rep. Frank Ferri, an openly gay man and a sponsor of the marriage equality bill. Speakers stood behind a giant banner of a quote from Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." State Sen. Josh Miller set the tone by arguing, "It's not about a personal story. It's about being on the right side of history."

Veteran LGBT rights activist Ken Fish electrified the crowd by announcing, "I'm not Harvey Milk, but my message is the same...I'm here to recruit you!" Fish offered a devastating critique of the cowardice of the Democratic Party leadership, starting with Murphy and Paiva-Weed.

But Fish didn't spare the liberal state House Majority Leader Rep. Gordon Fox, an openly gay man who has used his "on our side" status to excuse the Democrats' inaction. Fish urged audience members to commit themselves to activism in support of equal rights.

The clownish National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a right-wing group literally flown in to show "grassroots" opposition to LGBT rights, dragged a pathetic number of its people out to counter-demonstrate. Brian Chidester of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) mocked them from the platform: "NOM called a counter-protest to show that they represent the 'majority.' I think I see two or three of them. That does not constitute a majority."

Organizations supporting the rally included Marriage Equality RI, the ISO, Bell St. Chapel, LEAD, Options Magazine, the Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, Equality Rising, the Unitarian Universalists, Youth Pride, RI Pride, PFLAG, the ACLU, and several high school Gay-Straight Alliances. The next organizing meeting is Thursday, June 11 at 7 p.m. in Providence's Beneficent Church.