Updates, news, action alerts and events from Marriage Equality Rhode Island.

MERI commends Sen. Whitehouse for committee vote to repeal DOMA

PROVIDENCE – Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan issued the following statement today after the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee passed a historic measure to end the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, with the help of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

“Today, Sen. Whitehouse showed us what real character and leadership look like. His unwavering commitment to equal rights and recognition for all American citizens was further buffeted this afternoon by his vote to pass the Respect for Marriage Act and moves America one step closer to bringing DOMA’s hurtful and harmful discrimination to a permanent end.

Equality supporters are grateful to Sen. Whitehouse as well as to Congressman Jim Langevin and Congressman David Cicilline for cosponsoring this important civil rights legislation,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Jack Reed is the only member of the Rhode Island delegation who has yet to announce whether he will support the Respect for Marriage Act. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he voted in favor or passing DOMA in 1996.

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MERI, Coalition partners deliver hundreds of signatures to Senator Reed’s office


Today, Freedom to Marry, Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Ocean State Action will present Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island with a petition signed by hundreds of Rhode Island residents urging him to join his colleagues in signing onto the Respect for Marriage Act, the bill that would repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“Recent census data show that Rhode Island is among the top ten states where gay and lesbian couples choose to build their lives together.  These loving, committed couples and their families are harmed every day by the denial of marriage and by federal discrimination that treats them as strangers in the eyes of the law,” said Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director of Freedom to Marry.  “We hope that Senator Reed will listen to the voices of his constituents and join us in ending federal marriage discrimination.”

The signatures were collected through an online campaign by the four groups.  They represent a variety of constituents from Rhode Island, which passed civil union in June.  Fewer than two dozen couples have since entered into civil unions in Rhode Island, which already honors the marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, but leaves these couples without federal protections because of DOMA.  Senator Reed is currently the only member of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation who has yet to co-sponsor the Respect for Marriage Act. However, he stated at the end of September that he would come to a conclusion about the legislation “quickly,” and that he believed it was “a critical issue.”

“Senator Reed said he was listening to the Rhode Island people on this critical issue,“ said Kate Brock, executive director of Ocean State Action. “Rhode Islanders are speaking. Rhode Islanders believe in equality for our gay and lesbian neighbors and we support an end to this harmful and discriminatory law. We hope Senator Reed will heed the call of his constituents and come down on the side of equality for all Rhode Islanders.“

“The National Organization for Marriage in Rhode Island is desperate in their attempt to get anti-equality supporters to persuade Sen. Reed to vote against DOMA repeal,“ said Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of the 700,000 member Courage Campaign. “We are confident that Sen. Reed will join the rest of his state’s Democratic congressional delegation and support our effort to ensure Rhode Islanders are not treated as second-class citizens.“

The signatories signed onto a letter that reads:
Thousands of loving same-sex couples in Rhode Island have legally wed or plan to, and are committed to sharing their lives and building a family together. They need access to the same safety net and security that other families are afforded by the federal government. On behalf of the majority of Rhode Islanders who support the freedom to marry, we respectfully ask that you join your colleague, Senator Whitehouse, in co-sponsoring the Respect for Marriage Act.
For the full text of the letter, click here: The letters were delivered personally on Monday afternoon by several of the couples who participated in the petition.

“A growing majority of Rhode Islanders believe in marriage equality and recognize that it’s time to repeal DOMA,” said Ray Sullivan, campaign director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island. “Sen. Reed is well-respected by leaders on both sides of the aisle. His his support now for the Respect for Marriage Act would provide significant momentum to the effort to end the government-sanctioned discrimination that thousands of gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships face on a daily basis. We look forward to the day when Sen. Reed will join Sen. Whitehouse, Rep. Langevin and Rep. Cicilline in supporting this important civil rights legislation.“

Freedom to Marry and Courage Campaign have been working with other statewide groups in similar efforts as part of a federal campaign to increase the number of sponsors in both the House of Representatives and the Senate for the Respect for Marriage Act. The organizations celebrated a significant victory after Senator Mikulski of Maryland signed on as a co-sponsor of the Act, following a campaign that garnered a petition with 3,000 signatures. There are now a record number of supporters in both the House, where the bill has 128 cosponsors, and in the Senate with 29 cosponsors. (The bill was introduced in March with 108 cosponsors in the House and 18 cosponsors in the Senate.) Currently, the groups are working on another campaign that aims for Senator Casey of Pennsylvania to announce his support as well.

Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide. We are pursuing our Roadmap to Victory by working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. We partner with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.
Courage Campaign is a multi-issue online organizing network that empowers more than 700,000 grassroots and netroots supporters to work for progressive change and full equality in California and across the country.
Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) is the only grassroots organization in Rhode Island whose mission is solely to achieve LGBTQI equality through policy change and works to secure equal marriage rights for all Rhode Island couples, regardless of sexual orientation or identity.
Ocean State Action is a coalition of community groups, environmental organizations, professional associations, and labor unions who have been fighting for social and economic justice for over two decades.  

Continue Pat’s fight

You need to watch this video.

It’s a story about our friends Pat Baker and Deb Tevyaw, and how the so-called Defense of Marriage Act has adversly and unjustly impacted their lives. But it’s more than just an important story, it’s a critical call to action, and we really need your help today.

Sen. Jack Reed is the only member of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation who has yet to support the Respect for Marriage Act - legislation that would put a permanent end to DOMA. This afternoon, MERI, Freedom to Marry, Courage Campaign and Ocean State Action sent a joint letter to Sen. Reed, and asked him to support this critical civil rights legislation.

Please, take a minute to sign our petition to Sen. Reed asking him to support the Respect for Marriage Act. Remind him that a majority of his constituents are in favor of equal rights and recognition for gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships.

Pat Baker spent the last months of her life fighting to pass this bill, it’s up to us now to pick up where she left off.

New report characterizes RI’s civil union law as a ‘bust, fiasco’

PROVIDENCE - Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan issued the following statement today after the Rhode Island ACLU released a new report outlining the dramatic shortfalls of the recently passed civil union legislation:

“This report affirms what marriage equality supporters have consistently said: Civil unions, and more specifically Rhode Island’s civil union law, amount to little more than second-class citizenship. It’s no surprise that so few gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships have sought to enter into a civil union.

The overly-broad Corvese amendment, which allows religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools and other institutions to ignore the legal standing of a civil union spouse, is state-sanctioned discrimination, and repealing it will be among our top priorities in the next legislative session.

This flawed civil union legislation has only strengthened MERI’s argument stressing the need to pass marriage equality legislation now, and a majority of Rhode Islanders agree. All Rhode Islanders deserve equal rights, protection and recognition under the law and MERI will continue fighting to make that happen.

We commend the Rhode Island ACLU for its thoughtful and deliberative effort to report on this important civil rights issue,” Sullivan said.

MERI calls on Rep. Costa to disavow Sharron Angle’s bigoted positions on LGBTQ community

PROVIDENCE - Former US Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s anti-gay positions are well known throughout the country, and her expected appearance at a Tea Party rally in North Kingstown tomorrow has caused Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) to call on State. Rep. Doreen Costa to disavow the event and rebuke Angle’s intolerance towards LGBTQ citizens. Costa, a first term Republican, is a recognized leader in the local Tea Party organization.

Costa is quoted in a story from Monday characterizing Angle’s appearance as “exciting” and “a victory for our little state.”

In a letter sent to Costa today, MERI Board Chair Martha Holt urged the freshman lawmaker “to contact the Tea Party Express and Ms. Angle’s political organization and inform them that her discriminatory principles are not welcome in the Ocean State.”

Angle lost to Nevada Senator and Majority Leader Harry Reid in the last General Election while receiving significant support and funding from Tea Party organizations. She has stated in at least one candidate questionnaire that she opposes adding sexual orientation as a protected minority under existing civil rights laws. In addition, Ms. Angle supports barring same-sex couples from adopting and raising children. Like Rep. Costa, she opposes marriage equality.

Holt pointed to a number of current Rhode Island General Laws that were enacted to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Based on her response to the “Government is Not God” PAC questionnaire, Angle would support repealing or dramatically altering many if not all of those provisions.

As to the adoption issue, Holt noted that there are almost 700 same-sex couples currently raising children in Rhode Island today, according the Williams Institute’s report on Rhode Island’s most recent census data. “Would Ms. Angle destroy these families solely based on the parent’s sexual orientation, a position that is as morally bankrupt as it is offensive,” Holt asked in her letter to Costa.

“I would hope that you would disavow any association with a group that, through its promoted speakers, endorses bigotry and intolerance towards LGBTQ Americans,” Holt wrote.

With the Ocean State preparing for this weekend’s anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irene, MERI is reminding all gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships to take the necessary precautions to protect their important legal documents.

Specifically, couples should locate and safeguard documents such as:
- Wills
- Power of attorney
- Living will
- Healthcare power of attorney (HIPAA authorization)
- Funeral planning documents
- Any other authorizing documents

It’s unfortunate that LGBTQ couples have to take this extra step in an emergency situation, and that’s why we’re still fighting to make Rhode Island a place where all families are recognized and respected equally. If you have questions about emergency operations in your own community, please click here.

Statement from Marriage Equality Rhode Island on census data indicating growth in same-sex household

PROVIDENCE - Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan issued the following statement today regarding a report in The Providence Journal detailing the number of same-sex households in Rhode Island:

“While there are significant flaws in the US Census Bureauʼs methodology, it is important to recognize that 10 years ago the federal government had no interest in even counting the number of same-sex households. The fact is, Rhode Island remains a place where the government does not equally respect and recognize its LGBTQ citizens. MERI is fighting everyday to change that.

The recently reported US Census data reflects an important trend that our elected leaders can no longer ignore. A majority of Rhode Islanders believe that gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships deserve equal rights, recognition and protection under the law.

With the 2012 election just around the corner, the members of the General Assembly would do themselves well to recognize that.”

It’s working

Grassroots campaigns work, and you just proved it.

A few minutes ago, I spoke to Rep. Jim Langevin who called to tell us that he will proudly add his name to the growing list of co-sponsors to The Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that will finally repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

Last month, we asked you to contact the members of our Congressional delegation about this important civil rights legislation, and the response was really amazing. Marriage Equality supporters all across Rhode Island logged thousands of calls and emails into the offices of Rep. Langevin and Sen. Jack Reed asking them to do the rights thing and support the Respect for Marriage Act.

You took action, and Jim Langevin listened. Now, let’s say ‘thank you.‘

This is a significant boost in momentum for the pro-equality movement, and you should be proud of the fact that you helped make it happen.

It’s working. All the phone calls, the emails and the door knocking is making a difference. If you keep this up, we’re going to have a major impact on the 2012 elections.  Excited yet?

In Solidarity,

Ray Sullivan
Campaign Director

P.S. Celebrate this good news by dining for equality at Texas Roadhouse in Cranston Thursday night. Help MERI build the resources we need to win in 2012!

Miguel Luna - a passion for equality


The people have begun to gather at St. Michael the Archangel Church just a block from or so from our offices to say a final goodbye to a great friend of liberty and equality, Councilman Miguel Luna.  We will always remember Miguel for his hearty laugh, his bear hugs, and his ever striving to make the world a better place for all people.  May our struggle, and all the struggles that Miguel championed over his too, too brief life, always be strengthened by his memory.  Our heartfelt condolences go to Miguel’s family.  Thank you for sharing this wonderful man with the world.  He made a difference.

What’s wrong with Civil Unions?

The recent media coverage of how few couples actually entered into civil unions in July is shining a light on what we already know about this terrible Rhode Island civil union law.  We know that the civil union law raises more questions than answers about how same-sex couples can really protect our families.  Between the giant loophole for religious entities, the bill’s silence on how existing marriages will be treated, the inability to ever access federal protections through a civil union, and the very real concern that no one else understands what protections a civil union really provides, same-sex couples are understandably cautious before rushing into this lesser status the general assembly saw fit to establish for LGBT people only.

But the explanations for these low numbers by both supporters of the law and opponents of equality are just missing the point.  People are not waiting for the end of the summer to rush to City Hall and get a civil union license.  About 14,000 Illinois couples have applied for licenses under their civil union law over two months.  Couples in New York certainly weren’t stopped by the slower pace of summer living.  In the first DAY marriage licenses were available to same-sex couples in New York, an estimated 1,200 couples applied.  We know that same-sex couples need the protections that civil unions are supposed to provide, but the civil union law simply has too many unknowns.  Why should gay and lesbian couples have to spend money, time, and aggravation to figure out what a civil union really means in Rhode Island?  Additionally, many same-sex couples have already been married out of state.  Why would those couples want to pay to get their marriage downgraded to an arbitrary second-class status?

As for our friends at NOM, Chris Plante is exactly right that the struggle for marriage equality is not just about rights or benefits or privileges. It’s about fairness and equality and dignity.  Marriage equality is a concept, a philosophy, that ALL loving committed couples should be treated the same.  People want to get MARRIED so they can stand up in front of their friends and families and proclaim their love for one another.  People want the stability and recognition that comes with marriage.  They want to talk about their husband or wife and have people just understand the value of that relationship.  It’s time we had elected officials that understood what marriage means and why it’s important.  It’s time for politicians to understand that equality is not something you can “compromise” on.  The LGBT citizens of Rhode Island deserve to be treated equally.

Tell us in the comments why you don’t want a Rhode Island civil union.  We’ll share these stories with the supporters of the bill so they hear firsthand why we’re waiting for marriage.

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