Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Around The Nation

RHODE ISLAND: Hundreds Rally At Capitol For Against Same-Sex Marriage

Anti-Gay Marriage Protest Inside Rhode Island Capitol Building
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- While hundreds of supporters of same-sex marriage equality assembled at the Rhode Island Statehouse Tuesday to urge lawmakers to make Rhode Island the 10th state to allow same-sex couples to wed — and the last to do so in New England; downstairs in the capitol's rotunda a raucous rally of opponents to same-sex marriage opponents at times created enough noise as to drown out persons testifying in a third-floor committee room before the legislative committee reviewing the bill.
Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, has called for a vote on same-sex marriage legislation in his chamber by month's end, making Rhode Island the latest state after voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage last November.
While nearly 300 supporters and opponents signed up to address the legislative committee— they were limited to 2 minutes each to keep the hearing from going all night— hundreds more gathered in the hallways outside the hearing.
Testimony included the state's Governor, Lincoln Chafee, who has expressed public support for the measure and Rhode Island's Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, who also voiced her support;
"I'm here as your treasurer, but I'm really here as a mother and wife," said Raimondo. "Every Rhode Islander deserves the same rights that we have."
Others warned lawmakers that allowing same-sex marriage would erode social norms and urged them to protect the current definition of marriage.
The Roman Catholic Church, which maintains a heavy presence in this predominately Catholic state opposes the legislation on religious grounds — and more practical ones. The Rev. Bernard Healey told lawmakers that the Providence Diocese is concerned Catholic schools and charitable organizations could be forced to change their employee benefit policies if compelled to recognize the same-sex spouses of employees.
"We are here to defend and support the longstanding definition of marriage... as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman," Healey said. "Using the law to alter or redefine marriage is an injustice to those who have embraced this way of life."
Supporters in Rhode Island expect the measure will pass the Democrat-controlled House but concede the state Senate is more challenging. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, a Newport Democrat, is a same-sex marriage opponent but has said she will allow a committee vote on the legislation should it pass the House. She said Tuesday that she would not vote for the legislation as it's currently written.
State lawmakers have already passed civil unions for same-sex couples, and Chafee has previously signed an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Same Sex Marriage Bill Receives Bi-Partisan Support; Lawmakers Also Introduce Bill Adding Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity To State’s Anti-Discrimination Statues
CHEYENNE, WY -- Two same sex marriage/civil union bills introduced this week by the state's only openly lesbian lawmaker, Representative Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) are receiving bipartisan support.
Connolly is sponsoring House Bill 168, which broadens domestic partnerships and accompanying bill House Bill 169, which defines marriage as a civil contract between "two natural persons," rather than between a man and a woman, as the state statute currently reads.
Speaking with reporters Monday Connolly said,
"This bill [House Bill 168] allows same-sex couples to register into a domestic partnership, where they are allowed the same rights as spouses."
The bill replaces the word "spouse" in state statutes with the phrase "domestic partnership." Although minors can get married, they are not allowed to enter a domestic partnership, the measure reads. The bill also separates domestic partnership from religion because the registration and filing is done with the county clerk rather than by clergy.
"It's fine for same-sex couples to go to their churches, but they don't get registered or officiated with a minister or rabbi," Connolly said. 
Connolly said other states have found that a domestic partnership, which joins the incomes of couples for any government means testing, saves the state money through lower welfare payments. 
Bipartisan support
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, is a co-sponsor of both bills. She cited Section 2, Article 1 of the Wyoming Constitution, which reads: "In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal."
She also cited a second section that prohibits arbitrary power.
Those two sections do not say, "All people except those who believe differently than I do," Wallis said.
"Basically, I don't think it's any of the government's business, and we as a Legislature should not be inhibiting the liberty of other free people," Wallis said.
According to the Jackson Hole Daily, GOP Reps. Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson are also in support of Connolly's two bills.
"It's a basic human rights and fairness issue," Petroff told the Daily. "It's a basic constitutional issue. There should just be no reason why same-sex couples shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else."
Gingery said the number of gay couples is increasing and their rights aren't clear under current state law. He said allowing gay marriage would be the best solution because it plugs gay marriage into the state's existing legal framework for marriage.
Lawmakers have considered bills allowing gay unions three times since 2007, but none of them passed.
Last year, legislators considered but ultimately rejected a bill barring recognition of out-of-state, same-sex marriages.
Anti-Discrimination Measure
Connolly also is a co-sponsor to an anti-discrimination bill sponsored by State Senator Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie). The bill would include sexual orientation or gender identification to the state's anti-discrimination statutes. In the past, Connolly said, legislators heard testimony by people involved in enforcing fair employment practice laws who said they had to turn people away who claimed discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
"It's egregious, egregious action," Connolly said. "We want economic development in this state with high-end companies with high-end jobs," Connolly said. 
"And these companies not only want good roads and broadband and high-quality education, they want anti-discrimination laws. They don't want their gay and lesbian employees discriminated against in the community."
The bill was introduced Wednesday. The last day for legislators to submit their bills to the Legislative Service Office is January 28.