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RI Senate still allowing legislators to treat some marriages differently than others

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“It’s much better if we keep them all on the same calendar, unsegregated, treat them all the same,” said Senator Samuel Bell. “Instead of having to have it presented publicly that there are certain votes up or down on one particular marriage but not the other.”


Two weeks ago, just before taking a one week break, the Rhode Island Senate decided to place all three marriage solemnization bills onto the same consent calendar, and not treat the one same sex marriage differently. That consent calendar was to be voted on yesterday, but there was a last minute change of plan.

A solemnization of marriage bill is a special piece of legislation that allows a couple to be married by an officiant of their choice, usually a friend of the family or a relative, rather than a religious leader of justice of the peace. Before the passage of marriage equality in Rhode Island, these bills were perfunctory votes, but now they have become political targets of legislators who still oppose marriage equality.

Yesterday, when the Senate took up the bills, rather than allow the bills to be passed en masse as part of the consent calendar, the bills were voted on separately, like any other piece of legislation. Though this might appear to be an improvement, in fact it exposes solemnization of marriage bills to the exact kind of governmental judgement and bigotry that the passage of marriage equality was supposed to prevent.

Let’s looks at the three votes:

The three votes seem pretty identical, the only difference being that Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) declined to vote on the last solemnization of marriage bill. That bill was for a same sex marriage. (Senator Ryan Pearson (Democrat, District 19, Cumberland) was absent, while Senators Jessica de la Cruz (Republican, District 23, Burrillville, Glocester) and Senator Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) have apparently decided not to vote on any solemnization bills.)


Can we please ask a favor?

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It is precisely these kinds of actions, voting in favor of some marriages while refraining on voting or even voting against other marriages that makes this process unequal.

Senator Samuel Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) raised the issue on the floor. “It’s much better if we keep them all on the same calendar, unsegregated – treat them all the same,” said Bell. “Instead of having to have it presented publicly that there are certain votes, up or down, on one particular marriage but not the other.”

Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket) rose in support of Bell. “We want all marriages to be treated equally. For all of the ten years that I’ve been here we have put the marriage solemnizations on the consent calendar and voted on them all together. I believe that now taking them off the regular calendar and putting them on the consent calendar so that perhaps someone could vote against a totally perfunctory marriage solemnization bill does not seem to be furthering the interests of equality.”

Bell’s motion to move the bills back to the consent calendar was overruled, with only Senators Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Jamestown), Gayle Goldin (Democrat, District 3, Providence) and Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, North Smithfield, Woonsocket) joining Bell and Nesselbush.

The bills were voted on towards the end of the Senate session. Here are the votes:

See also:


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com