On Wednesday, April 24th, Senator Donna Nesselbush presented SB38 (Persons eligible to marry) to the Rhode Island Senate. The bill had just weeks before come out of the Senate judiciary committee, after much debate and heartfelt testimony. Rhode Island LGBT advocates have been trying to achieve marriage equality for almost 20 years. Efforts have, year-after-year, been stifled by legislative and religious blocks. Moving this legislation forward required elected officials to challenge some deeply-held beliefs, listen to their constituents, and, as sixth-grader Matthew Lannon put it, "choose love."
The discussion on the Senate floor demonstrated these challenges. Senator Elizabeth Crawley (D-Central Falls, Pawtucket) said, "There were three things that Jesus said in the Bible: faith, hope and love, and that the greatest of those is love... I did not decide, until today, how I was going to vote, right up until this morning, but I've done it through a lot of research... And, as a city clerk for 40 years, I went and I gave out marriage licenses... You're married when you go to that City Hall and you get that piece of paper. And that is a civil issue, it is not a sacramental issue."
Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) spoke about her pride in being a practicing Catholic and her struggle with voting on the issue of marriage. "...What did help [me decide] was the same-sex couples who came to my office and shared their beautiful stories... And one couple talked about a plaque that they had in their home growing up; and, ironically, I had the very same plaque in my very Catholic home... and it read, 'faith, hope and love.' And the greatest of these is love."
Both of these Senators, along with 24 others, voted in favor of SB38. The bill passed. It will go back to the House of Representatives, and is expected to quickly move to Governor Chafee and be signed into law. Same-sex marriage would go into effect on August 1st, 2013.
Many organizers and advocates deserve high praise for their tenacity and dedication not just for advancing the marriage equality legislation, but for challenging fundamental beliefs. You changed hearts and minds to advance love and faith, and we are overjoyed.
The most wonderful aspect of photographing people is opening your heart to connect with their emotions and experience. Here's a look at some of the hundreds who gathered at the Rhode Island Statehouse for the Senate vote on Wednesday, April 24th 2013.