Mobilizing against the bigots in R.I.

March 5, 2010

SMITHFIELD, R.I.--One hundred protesters came out in opposition to anti-gay and anti-choice forces who gathered for a "summit" on February 27 at the Ocean State Baptist Church.

Activists from the Providence Equality Action Committee, Queer Action-RI and the National Organization for Women were among those who turned out to counter a host of right-wing speakers that included Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI); Christopher Plante, the Rhode Island director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM); and Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council (FRC). The range of topics at the summit included "Homosexuality in Your Children's Schools," "Engaging Students in Pro-Family Activism," and "Exposing Planned Parenthood."

Motorists almost universally honked in solidarity with those protesting the summit.

NOM has been the main force on the ground in the state against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, but the group has made efforts to supposedly "distance" itself from right-wing religious groups. Its true colors were recently exposed, however, after a bill that would have allowed funeral arrangements to be made by non-married domestic partners was vetoed by Gov. Donald Carcieri.

When the bill was about to be overridden by the state's General Assembly, NOM sent a letter to every state lawmaker urging them to vote against over-riding the veto because it would supposedly pave the way for full marriage rights. Although the bill was still overridden by a wide margin, the process wiped away any illusions that NOM was anything but a front for bigotry.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the group would appear alongside members of the MFI and FRC, which have records of spreading misinformation about abortion, have referred to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT) people as "mentally ill," or have advocated for criminal penalties for "homosexual behavior"--as Sprigg recently did on MSNBC.

Over the summer, Rhode Island became the only New England state without legal protections for same-sex couples (Maine has since repealed its equal marriage law). The main legislative opposition has come from House Speaker William Murphy and Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, but recently Speaker Murphy resigned his speakership, paving the way for Majority Leader Gordon Fox to rise to the position. Fox, an openly gay man, has been quoted as saying, "While [marriage equality] is always priority, it probably won't be a priority this year."

In a move that has further angered LGBT activists, Fox has asked that right-wing Democrat Nicholas Mattiello replace him as Majority Leader.

While it is clear that Gordon Fox will not show leadership to push marriage equality in the state, his ascension to the most powerful position in the state House, along with the election of a new governor this fall, will certainly raise expectations in the LGBT community and further galvanize grassroots activism for equal marriage.

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