Hundreds of Rhode Islanders were present at the State House on Thursday to witness Governor Lincoln Chafee sign the marriage equality bill into law, an act David Olsen was not sure he would ever see.
The Warwick City Treasurer met his husband, Len Flood, in 2006 at a government finance officer’s conference in Montreal, Canada.
“At that point we never even thought this would be possible,” admits Olsen.
However, as the couple attended hearings, delivered testimony and witnessed two historic votes of the floors of both the Senate and House, they knew this year would be different.
“The Senate was still always a question,” said Olsen. “I was still nervous leading up to the full vote in the Senate.”
He added that even after the referendum was voted down, he was still not 100 percent confident until the bill was signed.
Flood explained that the two had also been active in the push for marriage equality back in 2010, but they believe changes in the attitudes of legislators, and the added support of city officials, religious leaders and grassroots organizations, played a part in this year’s success.
Another Warwick couple present at the signing was Laura Pisaturo and Maria Tocco. The two are lifelong Rhode Islanders who have been together for 10 years. The two were married in June 2007 during a ceremony at the Boston Harbor Hotel. They were both elated that marriage equality was finally legal in their home state.
“It is almost beyond words,” said Pisaturo during a phone interview on Saturday morning. “I was grinning from ear to ear Thursday, Friday and even today. It is an amazing feeling of joy.”
“It feels so good to wake up in a state that not only recognizes your relationship, but supports it,” said Tocco, who is the director of public and community relations for the lieutenant governor’s office.
Pisaturo, who ran for the District 29 Senate seat in the September 2012 primary, said that many people played a part in passing the marriage equality bill this session, including volunteers, elected officials, straight allies and other advocates. “I think there is so much that contributed to Thursday’s final passage and enactment of this law,” said Pisaturo, who has a private law practice in Providence.
While Pisaturo and Tocco were married in Massachusetts, they did have a celebration in Rhode Island on Sept. 8, 2007, about three months after their first ceremony. They had the second celebration in the backyard of their home in Governor Francis Farms in Warwick with almost 120 guests.
“The only regret we had was that we could not get married in Rhode Island and that we could not share it with our large family,” said Pisaturo, when asked why the pair decided to have the second ceremony.
Both women come from large Italian families, but only Pisaturo’s mother and Tocco’s parents and grandmother attended the ceremony in Boston.
Now that their marriage is recognized in Rhode Island, the pair is considering a vow renewal or other celebration for their anniversary this year.
“It will be six years on June 2, but we tend to celebrate September 8 when we had the large celebration with our families,” said Tocco, who says if they have another ceremony, it would most likely be in September.
On the other hand, Olsen and Flood are not planning to have any celebration or ceremony in Rhode Island. The pair was married on Oct. 2, 2010 at Christ Church, an Episcopal church in Swansea, Mass.
“Our wedding was a beautiful day and we don’t want to do anything to overshadow that,” said Olsen.
While Olsen and Flood see no changes in their personal relationship, they are expecting an increase in activity for their business. The pair own Casablanca Events and serve as officiants for weddings across the state. The two opened the business last May following Flood’s retirement from his position as director of business affairs for the school department. Both had a background in consulting and event planning, so they decided becoming officiants to perform weddings was a good fit. They focus on creating a personal ceremony for each couple but will also provide guidance on other aspects of the day if the couple needs help.
Olsen explained that the pair have linked their business to weddingwire.com, a popular wedding planning website that provides couples with a variety of vendors across the country. “We have found that brides today do not use magazines to plan their weddings; they use the Internet,” said Olsen.
He added that they have had many out-of-state couples looking to get married in Newport, and he suspects many same-sex couples for other states may look to do that as well.
Flood said that the business has been doing very well and they are actually booked through the summer. The pair will design the ceremony however the couple chooses and has performed ceremonies ranging from secular to very religious.
“We’ve done it all,” said Flood, who is currently researching how to design a humanistic ceremony, a movement that was popular in the late-’60s.
“No two weddings are the same,” said Flood.
And how is the married couple doing as business partners?
“We mesh pretty well,” admits Olsen. “We compliment each other.”
“Just like in life,” adds Flood.
While Flood and Olsen both expect to perform marriages for same-sex couples, they warn newly engaged same-sex couples to think ahead.
“If they want to find officiants for August 1[the day the law goes into effect], they might not be able to,” said Flood, who takes care of a lot of the scheduling and planning for Casablanca Events while Olsen is still working for the city.
Both of these Warwick couples may already be married, but they say having same-sex marriage legalized in the state has added another level to their relationships.
“It is nice to know that our marriage is equal to any other,” said Flood, who, along with Olsen, gives special thanks to Representative Edith Ajello, Representative Frank Ferri and Governor Chafee for their support over the years. Flood especially recalls the governor being out in the rotunda of the State House during the full Senate vote on April 24 to show his support.
“That moment was electric,” said Flood. “The governor was right out there with the people. He stayed until the vote was complete.”
Tocco also said having the governor’s support was moving and the words he said during his remarks at Thursday’s signing ceremony were touching.
“It is a great thing to hear your governor say we value your relationship like we value everyone else’s relationships and we are going to protect it,” she said.
While the legalization of same-sex marriage may not have a direct effect on these two already-married couples, they both feel that this law will benefit not only same-sex couples but also the state as a whole.
“Recognizing [same-sex marriages] is such an important part of having Rhode Island reach it’s full potential. Tolerance is an important part of wanting to live in a place,” said Tocco.
Olsen agreed that marriage equality will make Rhode Island more attractive for those looking to move, but the wedding industry here can also grow as same-sex couples from across the country look for locations to have their ceremonies.