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House Judiciary hears Kazarian bill to reform solemnization of marriage



The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday night in favor of reforming the process by which people seek temporary permission to officiate at weddings. The bill introduced by State Representative Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence), H5238, would take the power to grant permission for people to officiate a marriage away from the General Assembly and make the service an administrative function of the Governor’s office for a fee.

The bill is not too dissimilar to a bill introduced by Senator Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) in 2015, which would have made the service an administrative function of the Secretary of State’s office. That bill passed the Senate but failed to pass in the House.

Kazarian introduced the bill, explaining that last year a constituent contacted her in July about a marriage scheduled for September. “I looked into every possible option,” said Kazarian to the committee, “and there was nothing we could do as a state for her to be able to be married by her friend.”

Kazarian modeled her legislation on the way Massachusetts does it, where “you can apply on line from six months out from the wedding to the day before the wedding.”

This reporter, Steve Ahlquist, also testified before the committee. I’ve been writing about this issue for many years, because under the current procedure, certain members of both the House and the Senate routinely discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community by voting against or abstaining from voting on same sex marriages. These legislators are abetted by leadership that divides the solemnization of marriage bills into two piles, same sex and straight marriages, and passes them separately. I called this “institutionalized bigotry.”

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You can read my full testimony near the end of this piece.

“I’m here as someone who is getting gay married,” said Ange Strom-Weber in her testimony before the committee. She and her fiance originally wanted her boss to marry them but ultimately decided to hire a registered officiant. “One reason is that the current practice of separating the gay solemnizations from the straight ones is degrading, and like any bride in the world I just want my wedding to be perfect, not separate but equal, because separate is never really equal.”

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island also spoke in favor of the legislation noting that some of the legislators who “have been around for a while remember that there have been at least two legislative sessions where solemnization of marriage bills have been held hostage for last minute things going on here. I felt so terrible for all these individuals who were waiting to get legislative approval to have somebody get officially solemnized for the marriage.”

The bill was held for further study.


Steve Ahlquist

My written testimony:


Testimony in support of H5238

Thank you Chair Craven and members of the House Judiciary

My name is Steve Ahlquist and I am a reporter for UpriseRI.

I’ve been covering the solemnization of marriage issue pretty much since the passage of marriage equality. I remember reporter Ted Nesi tweeting about how the bills for same sex marriages were being separated from other solemnization of marriage bills and passed separately on the House floor.

Later, I was informed by an LGBTQ activist that these bills were being routinely separated into two “separate but equal” piles, in both the House and the Senate, to enable certain legislators to abstain or even vote against marriages they disapproved of, in Committee hearings and on the House Floor.

Through a deft bit of legislative legerdemain, the bills are now routinely separated for passage. I’ve documented instances of this every year for four years, in both chambers. Just last night, on the Senate floor, Senators Frank Lombardi, Harold Metts and Elaine Morgan abstained from voting on the Senate Consent calendar, because a woman named Christy wanted to marry another woman named Amber.

The present system is one of bigotry, institutionalized bigotry, and every member of the leadership teams in both chambers of the General Assembly that enable this behavior are complicit in perpetuating a system that stigmatizes same-sex couples that wish to be married by allowing this to continue.

H5238 would take the solemnization of marriage issue out of the hands of a General Assembly that has shown that it does not have the moral decency to defend the values expressed in Rhode Island State Law, where Marriage EQUALITY is enshrined.

In 2015 Senator Michael McCaffrey introduced, and the Senate passed, a bill that would have essentially done what this bill does, but vesting the power to issue permission to officiate weddings with the Secretary of State, rather than with the Governor’s office. That bill did not make it through the House.

At that time, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello told Associated Press reporter Jennifer McDermott, “I don’t see the reason why we would give up that positive interaction” the present system provides between legislators and their constituents.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of a growing number of Rhode Islanders, the General Assembly has shown a cavalier disregard for same-sex couples who wish to marry, under the law. It’s time to move this system to the Governor’s office, or the Secretary of State’s office, or somewhere the system can be applied fairly and equally, and without institutionalized bigotry.

Thank you.

Katherine Kazarian

Written testimony

Jacob Brier
Francesco Pisaturo

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.