PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed legislation May 2 that made the Ocean State the sixth and final state in New England to legalize same-sex "marriage" and the 10th in the country, including Washington, D.C.
Chafee, a Republican-turned-Independent, last year signed an executive order requiring all state agencies to recognize same-sex "marriages" performed in other jurisdictions.
The measure had never emerged from a committee in the Rhode Island General Assembly since it was first introduced in 1997. In 2011, the General Assembly passed a civil-unions law for same-sex couples, but homosexual activists were not satisfied and framed their cause as one of civil rights and equality.
The Catholic community in Rhode Island pushed back hard against the drive to legalize same-sex "marriage" in their state, but years of intense lobbying and advocacy by the homosexual lobby finally prevailed with state legislators.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence often spoke out against the same-sex "marriage" measure, giving speeches and writing columns in The Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, where he called the measure immoral, unnecessary and a risk to the traditional family.
He expressed his disappointment in a May 2 letter on the diocesan website.
"Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’" he said. "At this moment of cultural change, it is important to affirm the teaching of the Church, based on God’s word, that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357) and always sinful.
"And because ‘same-sex marriages’ are clearly contrary to God’s plan for the human family, and therefore objectively sinful, Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others."
Prior to the fateful vote, Bishop Tobin said, "We should be very clear about this: It is only with grave risk to our spiritual well-being and the common good of our society that we dare to redefine what God himself has created."
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the legislation to the full Senate for a vote. Supporters said the legislation exempts religious organizations from having to preside at same-sex weddings and that the law allows other religious organizations, including fraternal benefit organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, to refuse services to a same-sex "marriage" celebration or services to promote such an occasion through social or religious programs.
Supporters said it also stipulates that religiously affiliated fraternal benefit societies will not be required to provide membership or benefits related to a "marriage" that violates their particular religion’s doctrine.
However, the Rhode Island Catholic Conference said in a statement that the law still fails to protect individuals and small businesses who believe in marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The conference also said that it was thankful for senators who "demonstrated great courage" in supporting true marriage "despite tremendous pressure from well-funded special-interest groups."
Recent incidents nationwide underscore the pressures facing individuals and business owners who are morally opposed to same-sex "marriage." A Washington state florist is being sued by that state’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union for turning away business from a same-sex couple.
The Rhode Island law contains no protections for faith-based organizations or small businesses, who are frequently targeted for legal punishment over their "refusal to countenance genderless marriage," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
"The Senate has abandoned society’s most important institution and put their constituents on a collision course with the law," Brown said, adding: "Lawmakers have allowed themselves to be fooled into thinking they have protected people of faith, when, in fact, they have put those who believe in true marriage in the crosshairs of the law and gay-marriage activists."
"It won’t be long before the repercussions begin to be felt," Brown said.
Scott Spear, a Providence attorney and an advisory board member for NOM Rhode Island, said citizens in other states have heard the "same shallow promises" from elected officials that nobody will be negatively impacted by the legalization of same-sex "marriage."
"It won’t be long before gay-marriage activists start pressing hard their new rights on the faithful in Rhode Island," Spear said.
Brown said the National Organization for Marriage has pledged to educate Rhode Islanders on their senators and representatives’ votes and to hold them accountable.
"This isn’t the end of the debate," Brown said. "We intend to make sure that every Rhode Islander knows how their policymakers voted on this critical issue. We will hold the politicians accountable for their votes."
The day before the vote, the Rhode Island Senate’s Republican caucus announced that all of its members would support the bill, which lawmakers said is believed to be the first time an entire caucus had backed same-sex "marriage" in any state legislature nationwide.
Republican lawmakers who flipped on the issue will have to answer for their actions, Brown said, adding that many may face Republican challengers, "as they should."
Brian Fraga writes from
Fall River, Massachusetts.