Advocates urge Rhode Island lawmakers to allow same-sex marriage

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April 06 2006 11:00 PM ET

Ed Bonetti of
Warwick, R.I., describes himself as a traditional
Italian Catholic who wants what any dad would want for his
20-year-old son: to see him get married and have
children. But because his son is gay, he's not sure
that will ever happen.
"My son has so many wonderful qualities. But we
can't even look to those points right now because he
does not have the same rights and he's not being
treated fairly," said Bonetti, 46.
He and dozens of others gathered at the
statehouse in Providence on Wednesday to testify
before lawmakers who are considering a bill that
would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The
hearing came a week after the highest court in
Massachusetts, the only state to legalize same-sex
marriage, ruled that gay couples from states where same-sex
marriage is banned cannot marry in Massachusetts.
But the Massachusetts court also said it was
unclear whether Rhode Island prohibits same-sex
marriage and sent the cases involving Rhode Island gay
couples back to a lower court.
A marriage equality bill has been introduced in
the general assembly nearly every year for a decade.
Current state law does not explicitly ban or permit
same-sex marriage.
Bridget Baird, 38, of East Providence, told
lawmakers that if she had been able to marry her
partner, Tina Duarte, 37, the medical costs associated
with having their son, Theo, would have been covered by
health insurance because state law requires insurers
to provide infertility treatment for married couples.
Once Theo was born, Baird said she and her
partner were investigated by child welfare workers
before she could adopt him as his second parent. "They
asked us about Tina's parenting skills, how her parents
parented her, even though Theo was her genetic child," Baird
said. "Frankly, it was humiliating."
Religious leaders spoke on both sides of the
issue. The Reverend Dennis Kessinger, of Amazing Grace
Church in West Warwick, spoke on behalf of the New
England Leadership Coalition, a group of 40 clergy members
from multiple denominations. "Children are my main
concern," he said, explaining that he believes
children need a father and a mother and he has read
that children raised by gay couples are more likely to be abused.
The Reverend Jan Grinnell, a lesbian and deacon
at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Bristol, spoke on
behalf of a group of clergy supporting same-sex
marriage. "The divine known by many names does not
ever side with hate or discrimination," she said.
Both the house and senate are considering bills
to legalize same-sex marriage. The senate also has a
bill that defines marriage as the union of a man
and woman. The bills have had hearings in previous years
but never come to a committee vote.
Democratic representative Arthur Handy, the lead
sponsor on the bill to legalize same-sex marriage,
said he will push for a vote this year. "That's what
we need right now to move forward," said Jenn
Steinfeld, cochair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.
But the chairmen of the house and senate
judiciary committees would not promise a vote. Senate
judiciary chairman Michael McCaffrey said he opposes
same-sex marriage. He plans a hearing on the senate's bills
after the general assembly recesses later this month.
The bill to legalize same-sex marriage has been
gaining momentum in house, where its sponsors include
judiciary chairman Donald Lally. He said he's
reluctant to put the bill to committee and floor votes this
year and then have it defeated in the senate or vetoed by
Gov. Donald Carcieri. But he said he thinks the bill
eventually will pass. "What I've found in the house
is, each year people are becoming more tolerant,"
Lally said. "If you'd talked to me five years ago,
civil unions wouldn't have been discussed, and now I've had
Republicans come to me and say they wish that was
available." (AP)

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