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Separate and Unequal: How certain State Senators continue to pass judgement on same sex marriages



Harold Metts

This legislative session’s first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing opened with Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) making a motion to bundle six solemnization of marriage bills together and passing them all with one vote. Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) seconded the motion. Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick) put the motion to the Committee and it passed unanimously. Seconds later all six bills were unanimously approved.

It was a perfunctory, uncontroversial process.

Solemnization of marriage bills are granted, upon request, on a per marriage basis. When passed, they allow someone who isn’t a marriage officiant to preside over a marriage. Legislators like them because they are an easy way to grant favors. For instance, one of the bills passed at the Senate Judiciary meeting above, S2023, will allow James William Simon to join Cathryn Marie Simon and Kenneth Spencer Bernstein in marriage this spring. Senator Nesselbush introduced the legislation to allow this to happen. Other solemnization of marriage bills passed in the bundle were made upon the request of Senators Euer, Satchell, Felag, Coyne, Seveney, DiPalma and Lynch Prata.

[For the record the bills passed in the bundle were S2023, S2087, S2094, S2095, S2097 and S2149.

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Here’s the thing, though: One of the solemnization of marriage bills to be considered at the meeting was held back from the bundle. One of the solemnization of marriage bills was considered separately, nine minutes later.

After hearing a bill unrelated to marriages, Lynch pulled out S2029, and Senator Nesselbush once again moved to pass the bill, but this time Senator Cynthia Armour Coyne (Democrat, District 32, Barrington) seconded. This solemnization of marriage bill was not passed unanimously. This time, two Senators, Harold Metts and Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston), abstained.

What was the difference between the first six solemnization of marriage bills and the seventh?

The seventh bill was would allow Dina Spaziano to join Frank Salvatore Lombari III and Joseph William Dodge, two men, in marriage.

The first six bills were for the marriage of a woman and a man. The seventh was not.

Senators Metts and Lombardi are opposed to same sex marriage. They both voted against marriage equality, in committee and on the floor of the Senate, in 2013.

Though they lost the war, Metts and Lombardi are still fighting the battle against marriage equality, and in the process, some marriages, those seeking solemnization of marriage permission through the General Assembly, are treated as both separate and unequal.

For whatever reason, Capitol Television‘s recording of the meeting starts 80 seconds into the meeting, so you can’t watch the committee pass the bundle of marriage solemnization bills. But I was in the room and my camera was running, so you can watch it all below:

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.