On Monday evening, more than 70 people from Coventry and East Greenwich gathered in the park at the Sandy Bottom Road/Tiogue Avenue intersection in Coventry to show their support for marriage equality.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee due to vote on a bill today, the crowd gathered last night to call on Senator Lou Raptakis (D-Coventry, East Greenwich, West Warwick) to "support all loving and committed couples' right to marry the person they love," according to Kyle Megrath, Field Organizer for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage (RIUM).
Senate Bill 38, sponsored by Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), would define marriage as "the legally recognized union" of two people, regardless of gender. According to Ray Sullivan, executive director of RIUM, Sen. Raptakis is seen as a crucial presence in the passage of the bill, as his "yes" vote in committee would allow it to move to the full Senate.
In recent months, Raptakis' constituents have contacted him in droves asking for his support in regards to marriage equality. Last month, he shared that he's been receiving 30 to 40 phone calls and emails a day on the issue – "a very high volume." He noted that's 10 times the volume of what he gets for budget-related issues.
The Coventry community was eager on Monday night to demonstrate their gratitude to Sen. Raptakis for keeping an open mind and show him that they stand behind his positive vote.
The crowd was gathered for more than an hour in the chill, cheering, and standing in support of equal rights. Local clergy and constituents came to speak out for the freedom to marry and to ask Sen. Raptakis to vote for marriage in the committee and on the House floor. Among the speakers present were Rev. Betsy Garland, president of the R.I. Council of Churches and Rev. Ellen Quadgrass, minister at Westminster Unitarian Church in EG.
"For the sake of the children we love, for the sake of every family, for the sake of all people, I urge our senators to vote for love, stability, justice and equality, and support SB38," said Quadgrass. "As a religious leader in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, I believe that justice and equality are fundamental values. I believe that passing this marriage equality bill will support families and strengthen the fabric of our society. This bill affirms love over intolerance and affirms the inherent worth and dignity of all people over outdated biases of the past."
Coventry resident Carlos Alves and former Massachusetts state representative Caroline Stouffer, of EG, also spoke in favor of passing SB38.
"I'm here today to show my support for my daughter and all the people I know that will be able to marry when this passes," said Alves.
"For Rhode Island, the time is now," Stouffer said.
Following the speakers' remarks, participants took to standing on the sidewalk near the busy intersection, cheering and displaying signs that read, "The Time is Now," "Please Give Our Family Equality," "Support us Senator," "Coventry 4 Love," and "My Mom's Deserve Equality." Many motorists passed by and honked their horns in support, causing the group to celebrate and spread the word of their cause even louder.
Sen. Raptakis, along with his fellow Senate Judiciary Committee members, will vote on three pieces of same-sex marriage legislation today at 3 p.m. in Room 313 of the State House.
The three pieces of legislation they are scheduled to consider are:
- 2013-S-0038, sponsored by Senator Donna M. Nesselbush (D–Dist. 15, Pawtucket), to permit same sex marriage in the state and deem those who had entered into civil unions as married;
- 2013-S-708, sponsored by Senator Frank A. Ciccone, III (D–Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), proposing a constitutional change to permit same sex marriage if the constitutional amendment is ratified by the voters; and
- 2013-S-5015A, sponsored by Representative Arthur Handy (D–Dist. 18, Cranston), the House version of Senator Nesselbush’s bill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a lengthy public hearing on both Senate bills on March 21. No public testimony will be taken at Tuesday’s meeting.