The City Council unanimously called on state legislators to endorse marriage equality Monday night before a supportive audience that enthusiastically applauded the personal stories of married gays and lesbians, and then politely listening to an argument it had no place before the council and that they should hear both sides before voting.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, who docketed the resolution three weeks ago, called the council “the front line to the citizens of Warwick,” adding that in the past the body has advocated for the elderly, veterans and even pets and should do the same for all citizens. She said the reason council members are elected is to lead and to vote.
When marriage equality legislation came before the State Senate Judiciary Committee recently, the hearing stretched into the early morning hours. That wasn’t the case Monday, although council committee hearings that started at 5 p.m. didn’t conclude until almost 9. Once in session, the council rapidly approved the resolution.
Support for the resolution came from religious leaders and a cross section of the community.
The Rev. Betsy Aldrich Garland spoke of how she is the mother of two and grandmother of three and “fell in love” with her partner Kim eight years ago. She said that in her ministry, she sees “much suffering” and that her faith leads her to speak up for these people. As for her own situation, she said, “It may not be your choice, but I ask you not to judge mine.”
Because same-sex marriage is not recognized in Rhode Island, Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple Sinai said he can’t offer the same level of pastoral care he does for straight couples to same-sex couples. The themes of different standards for different people, lack of fairness and discrimination were repeated by many in often personal and emotional testimony.
Maria Tocco and Laura Pisaturo of Governor Francis Farms stood together at the microphone. Tocco talked of her love for what Warwick has to offer, but she and Pisaturo had no choice but to leave Rhode Island to be married in Boston six years ago.
“The state [Rhode Island] is based on the principle of tolerance, but they don’t tolerate us,” she said.
Apponaug resident Jack Thompson talked about his daughter, Mary, who with her partner adopted two orphans from China and then how she developed a brain tumor like Senator Ted Kennedy, except she was treated and recovered, regaining most of what she lost. However, a “lack of a piece of paper” that recognized her marriage denied her health coverage from her spouse. Thompson said that is now past, adding, “I am very proud of them.”
Rep. Frank Ferri, with his partner Tony Caparco at his side, called the legislation “very emotional and meaningful.” He said he feels a part of the community but that he should have the same rights.
Two other Warwick officials, School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado and member Karen Bachus, joined the chorus supporting the resolution. Bachus talked of counseling young people and the anguish some go through – even to the point of suicide – when confronting their love for someone of the same gender.
“It is time for equal rights for everyone to marry who they love,” she said. “Who are we to judge others if they are not hurting anyone?”
A Catholic mother married for 27 years, Furtado said she believes “as human beings, you have the right to marry who you choose.”
Married for 30 years, Edward and Anne Bonetti told the story of their son who told them he was gay nine years ago. Fearing rejection, he had his bags packed and was ready to leave home. “He felt that torment,” said Edward.
He went on to describe the wedding of their straight daughter.
“As parents, we want the same thing for both our children,” he said.
Roy Dempsey, a regular at council meetings, said council members were only getting one side to the story.
“I don’t see how you can make a decision; you don’t know the pros and the cons,” he said. He said the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman has been in place for 2,000 years and that there should be a “valid reason to break that.”
Dempsey countered statements that the council was taking a courageous step to address the issue of marriage equality.
“This isn’t courageous,” he said. “You have got to get both sides to make a decision.”
In the only outburst during the committee hearing, a voice from the back of the chambers declared, “You have really outdone yourself this time, Roy Dempsey.”
After unanimous passage by the inter-governmental committee, remaining council committee work was completed before the council came to order. As it took up the resolution, council members expressed their support of the resolution.
“It’s time for this to get done. It’s long overdue,” said Council President Donna Travis.
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon observed that the council has no control over marriage equality. Nonetheless, he saw a place for the resolution.
“It’s how we treat our fellow human beings,” he said. “It’s not a matter of law. It’s a matter of living our lives the way they should be.”
Ward 1 Councilman Stephen Colantuono said he was happy to support the resolution, although he does not believe the issue will be resolved quickly. Ward 8 Councilman Joseph Gallucci said he has lived his life by respecting the beliefs of others. Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur called it an issue of fairness and respect.
“It is the fair and right thing to do,” he said.
With passage of the resolution, Vella-Wilkinson stood to applaud, as did the audience.