Multiple residents shared opinions about gay marriage during 12-hour session
Seeing a sea of people flood the rotunda and the Senate chamber at the State House Thursday evening was quite the profound experience for District 35 State Senator Dawson Hodgson.
It was also one of the many sights during what was an extremely long evening for both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Rhode Island residents who are on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate in the capital city.
Hodgson, along with the rest of the Judiciary Committee, spent more than 12 hours hearing passionate testimony from people both for and against the legalization of gay marriage in Rhode Island, with recess finally being called at 5 a.m. last Friday.
“It was a valuable experience, but it was a real long night,” said Hodgson, who, in previous reports, would vote in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in the Ocean State. “It was a profound experience, just like how it was in 2011 and I’m sure in the years it had been considered previously. It was a very broad spectrum of citizens coming to share their points of view.”
Hodgson said more than 650 people signed up to testify before the Judiciary Committee and almost that amount shared his or her thoughts as to why same-sex marriage will bring equality to the sanctity of union and why the current state of marriage – between a man and a woman – should remain as such.
Despite some residents being unable speaking their minds in front of elected officials due to the enormous crowd in attendance at the State House Thursday evening, they were still heard loud and clear in the rotunda with signs and making chants for their respective viewpoints on the much-heated debate.
“Everyone had a reason that they’re moved to come and share their opinion in person,” Hodgson said.
The District 35 Senator added that he and his colleagues in the chamber were also flooded with phone calls, emails and other forms of communication regarding their takes on the same-sex marriage issue.
“We certainly are hearing from our constituents how they feel about the issue,” he said. “All of this is very good to inform how legislators should decide this matter of law.”
Hodgson said there was progress, of sorts, in that the vote may sway in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage when “a great number of people” who opposed same-sex marriage were urging to have it be a referendum and leave it up to the public to make the decision. Therefore, even though there may be many more discussions to be had on the issue, the possibility of a same-sex marriage bill becoming a reality may be sooner rather than later.
“It may perhaps send some signals of inevitability that this will happen,” Hodgson said. “The public opinions, the polls that have been recently released, said the support for same-gender marriage is much higher amongst young citizens. The demographics of something like that, they support that view that it’s inevitable and it’s a matter of time.”
Hodgson also said that speaking with elders from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community was one of the many poignant things he took away from Thursday night’s marathon hearing. He said the elders were sharing their thoughts on elderly care – which is an issue, he said, that’s important to both him and his constituents – and the women were relaying the difficulty hoops and, sometimes, discomfort and embarrassment to pursue the same types of later-in-life medical decisions and legal protections, but without the status that their neighbors have.
There were also anecdotes, Hodgson stated, of folks who had friends and/or family pass away recently and didn’t see the legal development take place Thursday.
“There was a couple last year whose spouse was a prison guard who was dying of lung cancer and said ‘I want my wife to be taken care of when I die. I’ve given my life to the State as a prison guard,’” Hodgson said. “And she died and never got to see what this realized.”
The issue of religion was a major portion of Thursday’s discussion, both from the public and from some members of the Judiciary Committee.
Hodgson said, in quoting fellow Sen. Frank Lombardi (Dist. 26), that on one hand, no one person can separate their religious beliefs from one’s own value sets and how one approaches questions of morality, and it was especially evident on the part of the public in attendance speaking at the hearing.
However, according to published reports, Sen. Harold Metts (Dist. 6), in expressing his disappointment over some calls about the legislation leading up to Thursday’s discussion, stated “don’t get mad at me; I didn’t write God’s words, but I believe in them.”
Hodgson said that, in deciding this matter, the Judiciary Committee has to look at the legality of the question and not base the decision on an endorsement of a specific religious doctrine or dogma.
“There was quite a bit of religiosity,” Hodgson said. “I think that’s more appropriate when it comes from the public. That’s First Amendment and that’s what’s great about the country. You can come to state you point and speak freely with no fear or retribution.
“As members of the Judiciary Committee, we have an obligation to view this as a legal question in the context of our constitutional role and as lawmakers. That’s how I conduct myself and I would appreciate if my colleagues would do the same.”
Hodgson said he’s unsure what or when the next step may be regarding the resolution of the debate, but given that the conversation about how the law affects those involved in the debate wasn’t lost on anybody and it won’t get lost anytime soon.
“Everybody was engaged in a thoughtful dialogue and, one of the things we emphasized amongst ourselves was that this isn’t an issue about enemies or foes,” Hodgson said. “This is a social and legal question that has been brought to us and it’s our job to figure it out accordingly.”