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Advocates urge
Rhode Island lawmakers to allow same-sex marriage

Advocates urge
Rhode Island lawmakers to allow same-sex marriage

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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