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Explaining his vote: Sexual orientation is not a choice

To the Editor:

After long and admittedly difficult deliberation, I decided to support extending civil legal rights, benefits and privileges of marriage to same-gender couples. Please allow me to explain how I arrived at this decision.

I concur with the Catholic Church that our nation and state suffer from a growing “moral relativism,” a social deterioration propelled by an unrestrained pursuit of selfish desires over “love for thy neighbor.” I also firmly believe that holy matrimony should and ought to remain a sacred union between a man and a woman that has been blessed by God’s representatives on earth.

Further, while the state may recognize same-gender marriages, the state is constitutionally bound to respect the religious convictions of the church. Specifically, the church should not be required to recognize same-gender civil marriages as well as not face any state sanctions or consequences for doing so. (I believe the new law safeguards religious liberties.)

Where I part company with the church is that I do not share the opinion that homosexuality is “immoral and sinful” behavior. I refuse to believe that homosexuals will be eternally damned for just being “who they are.” I say “who they are” because I am convinced that sexual orientation is not an aberrant and sinful lifestyle but, rather, an un-elected and immutable part of an individual’s core identity. I think anyone who has had the opportunity to truly get to know a person who is gay would agree.

Since Thomas Jefferson audaciously penned these historic words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that amongst these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” our nation’s history has been marked by a struggle toward greater equality under the law for all of its citizens. This was the case with women’s suffrage as well as the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans. While neither of these causes were popular for their time, these courageous Americans prevailed in their struggle for greater equality and dignity.

I believe that gay citizens of Rhode Island have embarked upon a similar journey toward the Jeffersonian ideal of “equality” under the law, which is currently enshrined in the 14th Amendment of our United States Constitution. (Note: Civil unions do not offer the same equal rights as marriage.) Honoring the spirit, if not the letter, of our nation’s highest law, I voted to extend equal legal rights, benefits and privileges to same-gender couples conferred by the public institution of civil marriage.

As a public official, I have faced a number of difficult issues whereby one side or another would be disappointed by the position I take. But, with any position, I come to it after careful consideration, consultation with constituents and my conscience with the genuine desire to be as reasonable as I am fair. While some constituents may disagree with me on this particular issue, I hope they can respect the sincerity of my approach.

Senator James C.

Sheehan

D-Dist. 36,

Narragansett,

North Kingstown


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