Last night, May 2, the House of the Rhode Island General Assembly held hearings on three bills related to same sex marriage. I was in the area and stopped by after 5:00, decided to stay, listen and testify. I was allowed into the hearing room at about 5:45.
Compared to last year, attendance was light– but the crowd overflowed in to the hall and the secondary room they use for watching on video. Hearings started at the rise (around 4:00) and went on till after 9:00.
I was struck by the consistency of the arguments against marriage equality. Without exception the speakers cited religion–specifically, conservative Christianity. A man in clerical dress blasted the sixties as the root of all our problems– oblivious to the fact that bringing back the fifties would place some of us in legal segregation and others in legal second class status. There was some name dropping of medical or psychiatric authorities that I doubt would stand a Google search. Two men testified that they gave up being gay since they found Jesus, and are now celibate. They called other gay men to convert. Many speakers claimed to be full of love for the people they were characterizing as sinful by nature and requiring an orientation change.
By contrast, pro-marriage speakers talked about their relationships, the legal and social advantages of legal marriage that they wanted to attain in this world, in their own home state. Tom Marlin,RN was one speaker who is in a long-term relationship he wants to have legally recognized. He sounded like he was reaching a point after years of this same scene playing out and said he hoped his testimony would act like Metamucil and promote peristalsis in the General Assembly so they would finally pass– actually a rather strained metaphor we might not want to take too far. Especially considering some of what the GA passes.
I was sitting next to a young woman named Kelly Reid, who testified that she is a military veteran, straight, and supports marriage equality as a matter of justice. Two young people spoke about growing up with two mothers, and how their families are no less ‘normal’ than any other families. Two clergy from the Old Catholic Church testified that they bless same sex marriage. Other religious people, a rabbi and ministers also testified in favor. It’s important to recognize that the loudest and most politically connected religious groups don’t represent all religious people.
Times like this I wish I was a reporter and not a tired blogger typing this out before work. I just have some general impressions–
The buzzword this year is ‘communist’. Chris Young accused the GA of being communists, but pushed it too far when he accused them of taking bribes. Rep.Costa objected, and Chris clarified that he meant to accuse Rep.Ajello. That made the usual impression. Kara seemed off her game, reading from a sheaf of papers. No police confrontation this time.
A man who described himself as just a regular guy, accused the GA of deliberately scheduling the hearing for a night when all right thinking conservatives would be in Woonsocket, protesting the cross challenge in the veteran’s park. He slammed education “these public school teachers couldn’t teach a snowball how to melt” and promised to mobilize voters in huge numbers. He sounded really angry– kind of like ‘Joe’ the ‘Plumber’. Seeing as I had walked there from a long day at work I was not terribly impressed with his prole creds.
Several of the religious speakers talked about God’s love right before vividly invoking the flames of hell that awaited most of us in the room. There being no harm in this world if the two ladies next door get married, they took refuge in their faith that most of us are toast when we all die.
I got an insight into how conservative Catholics view this, as some took slams at the Affordable Care Act and claimed that Catholics were forced to shut down charities. Charity is a wonderful thing, but if it is used as a down payment on political favors expected in the future we would be better off with less faith-based services. It is our tax money being invested– charity should not exclude some people for religious reasons if all taxpayers are supporting it.
Almost the last to speak was a man who showed the GA an actual rock from Sodom and Gomorrah (both cities I guess) that he said he paid a lot of money to send away for. He said it was 99% pure, nothing on earth was that pure, only God could make such a rock. They found melted teeth and bones in Sodom.
For me, the terrors of this world are more than sufficient. We have not really defused the nuclear threat.
The priest from the Old Catholic Church said that the sin of Sodom was the attempted rape of strangers, violence against those who were different, who were in need.
It occurred to me later that if Christianity defined the sin of Sodom as rape, Western culture would have been less brutal and kinder to women and children.
At this point, it’s past time to join the rest of New England and recognize committed partnerships and let them make it legal. It takes nothing away from the rest of us. My marriage is surviving the sink full of dishes, the ladies next door are minding their own business and we will mind ours.