Island Nation

America’s Smallest State Also the Smallest Minded?


Rhode Island became the union’s 13th state way back in 1790. Now it’s been given the chance to snag a more premiere spot on another list, except it looks like it’s abandoning the opportunity. With five states having legalized gay marriage, and with New Hampshire en route, Rhode Island is the lone New England hold out. And if concerns about conservative Roman Catholics are to be believed, it’ll stay that way for now.

Since 1997, legislators have tried every year to get a same-sex marriage bill to the House floor. And every year, they come up short. Advocates fear it’s going to happen yet again. AP:

… The movement has stalled in Rhode Island, perhaps even lost ground, after a stalemate at the Statehouse, a loss in the state’s top court and continued opposition from religious leaders.

[…] Religion remains among the biggest hurdles. A recent survey by Trinity College in Connecticut showed 46 percent of Rhode Islanders identify themselves as Roman Catholic, a larger percentage than any other state. Given its size, the church carries political clout. On the last Inauguration Day, every statewide elected official began the morning with a special Mass at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, celebrated by Bishop Thomas Tobin. Tobin does not hesitate to tussle with politicians, especially on gay marriage. He calls gay unions a perversion of natural law and a violation of an institution that Catholics believe was created by God. Two years ago, he harshly criticized Attorney General Patrick Lynch, a Catholic, for advising state agencies to recognize the marriages of gay couples wed outside Rhode Island. “We don’t see it as a civil rights issue,” Tobin said in a recent interview, “because there’s never a right to do something that’s morally wrong.”

Bills legalizing gay marriage have been introduced in the Statehouse every year since 1997. None has ever been approved by a legislative committee, required before those bills could be aired on the full floor. House Speaker William Murphy and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed, both Democrats and Catholics, oppose gay marriage.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rhoda Perry, a Democrat from Providence, does not expect to get a vote this year. She believes legislative leaders are trying to shield fellow lawmakers from a fractious debate. “You know your numbers,” Perry said. “So why make anyone even have to vote on something that at least some of their constituents will be upset about if you already know the votes aren’t there.”

Even if a simple majority of lawmakers backed Perry’s bill, Republican Gov. Don Carcieri — another Catholic — would almost certainly veto it. Overriding a veto requires the support of 60 percent of lawmakers in each chamber.

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  • Jason

    As a Rhode Island native, I had a feeling it might take longer there. As the article notes, RI is the most heavily Catholic state in the union and it tends to be more socially conservative and blue collar than the other New England states.

    That said, it’s still New England and there’s a lot of people with “live and let live” attitudes, plus Providence has become something of a gay mecca (plus has had an openly gay mayor, David Cicciline, since 2002) in the past decade. The reality is that in a few years, conservative gov. Don Carcieri will be gone and some of the likely candidates to replace him are much more liberal on this issue.

    Also, in Rhode Island like in most places, younger people–Catholic or not–are more liberal about gay marriage. It’s a matter of time but I can see it being necessary for the rest of New England and New York to go down the road first.

  • Oaklander

    I’m a recovering little Rhodey too. I agree that RI is very heavily Cath-o-licked, but also.. the RI attitude is very contrary and independent of the rest of New England. First to declare Independence, last of the colonies to join, etc. It’s not a good place. They are not good people.


    They’re still not the smallest-minded: my congressional representative is Paul Broun. The one who, If I read rightly, just reintroduced yet again the Marriage Prevention Amendment.

    (No, of course I didn’t vote for him!)

  • Mike

    I live in Providence Rhode Island,
    If David Cicilline, current gay mayor of Providence, runs for Gov. as expected things could change quickly.
    The State has long been run by Republican Gov’s, the current Gov. won barely last time. Change could be coming and Cicilline is popular enough to win. Kinda cool I used to serve him drinks when I bartended too.

  • Oaklander

    @Mike: You have my pity. Good God I hate RI. :)

  • Michael

    I go to Brown, and in Providence itself I can see a change occurring. As previously mentioned, if Mayor Cicilline becomes Gov. gay marriage should most certainly pass.

  • hardmannyc

    For the nation’s most Catholic state, it’s actually relatively liberal. Gay marriage will come there as soon as the current governor is out.

  • acoolerclimate

    I think a boycott of RI is in order. 5 New England states have or will have same sex marriage. RI is being idiotic if they think they can exist in the Northeast without it. Not to mention all the married gays from NY, CT, MA, etc freely come and go into RI, so even without marriage, there will be lots of married gay couples in RI at any given time. It’s just mean spirited and spiteful on their part.

    Yes, Providence is a fun place, lots of gays go there, lots to do. But until RI gives us the respect to enact same sex marriage, I think we should do our shopping/dining/nightlife etc elsewhere. And if you live in RI and are Gay? Do all of this outside of RI as well, it’s not far to head into MA to spend your money.

    It is just so sad that RI was founded as a refuge from the prevailing religion, a place people could be who they wanted, and now it’s the most religious of all the New England States, weird.

  • Lance Rockland

    It’s just infuriating and sad.

  • Oaklander

    @acoolerclimate: It’s a good idea, except that there is nothing to boycott. I guess we could put off buying that high-class Spidel bracelet- but really, WTF else does RI have for an industry?

    Providence is NOT a fun place, you are confusing it with Province town? Totally different. Providence is like an empty well-built mall.

  • Acoolerclimate

    Nope I’m not confusing providence with Provincetown. In fact I live 45 minutes from Providence and go there all the time. The mall downtown is the nicest in New England, downtown has some very cool architecture and shops, wickendon st has some cool shops including a gay coffee house that is a great place to hang out, a new sex shop just opened on that St. Every other weekend in the summer is Waterfire which is pretty magical, providence pride is a lot of fun, there are many Gay clubs, and Roger Williams Park is beautiful and the zoo there is great fun. I love wandering the hill just to the east of the downtown, cool streets to wander, old houses and you can head over to Thayer St for more shops.
    So when I suggest a boycott I don’t say it lightly. I would miss going there terribly, not to mention Newport, another nice town. But if RI doesn’t want us we should so them what it will be like without us.

  • Lance Rockland

    I live in Rhode Island and am ASHAMED and EMBARRASSED that our state legislature, which is Democrat-controlled by the way, and has an OPENLY GAY man as House Majority Leader, can’t pass a marriage equality bill.

    This fight has been going on for 12 years!

    And our pea-brained Governor Don Carcieri wants to “protect” marriage from the gays. Jackass!

  • Jason

    @Oaklander: Have you even BEEN to Rhode Island in fifteen years? You are sounding delusionally and irrationally angry. We’re not talking about Tulsa.

  • shadow_man

    What’s weird is, in 2004, even though Kerry was going to legalize gay marriage, Rhode Island still went blue. It will be legalized once that governor is gone.

  • Captain Freedom

    Call me crazy but I happen to believe RI is a lot less bigoted than this article makes it look. I know many RIers and they tell me its not the people but the politicians.

    Rhode Island, like New York has some of the sleaziest politicians on the planet. The Dem candidate for Gov in 2010 is a mob boss just like all the Big Union Democrats in NY. These big government fanatics love collecting the votes of Al Capone and the mobs of unions who don’t give a flying fuck about gay rights but want a managed economy so they can help their so-called “blue collar” workers.

    This is why I hate unions. As gays we are expected to support them and the Democrats when in fact union members voted 55% for Prop 8. FUCK EM!

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