To the Editor:
A little over a year ago I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the Warwick Beacon celebrating the passage of New York’s marriage equality bill, while lamenting Rhode Island’s failure to do the same (“NY’s victory, RI’s embarrassment”; 7/14/11). Since its publication, there has been significant and rapid movement across the country toward marriage equality, reflecting an extraordinary cultural shift in America. First, Maryland and Washington passed marriage equality bills; passed with bipartisan support and championed by Catholic governors. Then, President Obama became the first sitting president to publicly support same-sex marriage. And recently, the Democratic Party announced that it would include marriage equality as part of its platform for the first time. All these moments coincided with a slew of national polls showing public support for marriage equality outweighing opposition and growing quickly. As it stands now, 2012 has been a banner year for marriage equality.
What has not changed is the absence of marriage equality in Rhode Island. Instead, lawmakers ducked a difficult vote and opted for civil unions, reviving the flawed and failed concept of “separate but equal” and hoping for better results. As the nation moves forward, and as civil unions prove inadequate and unpopular, Rhode Island remains stuck in place. The greatest remaining barrier to marriage equality in Rhode Island is a group of lawmakers that stand as obstacles to equality. This fall, voters have the opportunity to remove those obstacles, and they should.
This election will be defined by a number of important issues: Rhode Island’s high unemployment, the struggles of small businesses, education and others. For the average voter, many of these issues will trump concern for marriage equality. Often I have heard that the General Assembly has bigger fish to fry. Yet, no matter the economic or political climate, civil rights should never be left on the back burner. Nor should marriage equality be viewed as a side issue in the debate over how to build a better Rhode Island. Prosperity requires that no minority group is disenfranchised. Resilience requires that no citizens be unjustly marginalized. And Rhode Islanders must be able to live with dignity before they can be active and productive members of the state’s society or economy. Thus, a candidate’s position on equal rights is as important to their vision of a better future as their position on job creation or education reform.
This fall, I urge all voters to remove from office those lawmakers that stand firmly as obstacles to marriage equality and replace them with pro-equality candidates. In Warwick, this starts with the Sept. 11 primary. Then, residents of District 29 will have the choice between an obstacle, Sen. Michael McCaffrey, and a path forward, Laura Pisaturo. If voters rally behind Pisaturo and other pro-equality candidates in the fall, I am confident the General Assembly that emerges this winter will bring Rhode Island forward.
Evan R. Ross