My Experience at the HB5015 Hearing in Providence, Rhode Island
by Alissa Graham, Ruth Institute “It Takes a Family” 2011 conference alumna.
“We are having a hard time finding supporters of HB5015, and we would really prefer to just interview those who support same sex marriage at this time,” a reporter said to a man waiting in line behind me to get into the observation room.
This past week was my first experience attending a hearing at the State House in Providence, Rhode Island. The hearing was in regards to HB5015, an act “related to domestic relations- person’s eligible to marry,” essentially calling in to question whether or not those of the same gender can marry.
It is quite a hot topic in my state, as it is all over the country. Rhode Island is known for being extremely liberal, and before I came to study at Johnson & Wales University, I was alerted that the campus was one of “tolerance and lifestyle acceptance.”
Upon arriving at the State House, I was quite surprised. I had been expecting to be blown away with angry supporters and one-sided arguments between constituents. Instead I saw people of all ages and races coming together in opposition to the act in a peaceful and loving way. A large number of the Hispanic population was represented, and there were droves of signage carrying a positive message: “God created marriage for one man and one woman, it is our responsibility to uphold it.” Many people that I talked too seemed to start conversations assuming that the other party was in favor of HB5015, but each time, surprised to find so many on the same page. It was almost like a sigh of relief or a gain in confidence to know that the majority who came out for the hearing were not in favor of passing a same sex marriage bill.
As I was waiting to get into the State House, a couple of older, scholarly looking men were talking behind me. I overheard their conversation and was very encouraged. They talked about how to pose their testimony to not only appeal religiously, but to argue the necessity of traditional marriage in a way that speaks economically, logically, socially, and fundamentally. They ended up being philosophy professors at a local Catholic University.
When I finally made it into a tiny room with just tv monitors playing the testimonies, I was blown away at what was said. Essentially anyone can sign up to testify, and you get two minutes to state your case. I was able to listen to about 15-20 speakers.
Those who were in favor of HB5015 spoke in poetic and moving prose. There was the gay English teacher who wants his students to know true tolerance and acceptance in the classroom and in the law. Or the bisexual man who testified that any act of love between anyone is beautiful. There was the “follower of Christ” who said that Jesus never wanted to hurt or disown anyone, and didn’t want to burden anyone with “religion.”
I noticed that most of those who spoke in opposition tried to do exactly what those professors were talking about earlier- not only coming at the issue from a religious perspective but a more long term, logical perspective. One of the Catholic professors spoke and said that civil law does not create rights, it holds up what is already there, being marriage as a special unit in which parties can create life and sustain it. A Lawyer stated that the case is not for marriage equality, it is a case for redefinition of marriage, and that the government should be interested in this redefinition because it should be interested in the future members of society who will be directly affected. I concur.
My favorite testimony of those I was able to hear was Michael Ives who stated that we are called to obey Christ and deny ourselves what we want, not to give in to our selfish desires and do what is popular.
All in all, it was a great experience, and I am so glad to have met so many interesting people and saw firsthand how politics go down in the state where I live, work, and attend church. The vote has not been cast yet, as the hearing went on for six hours late into the night and the committee needed more time to think and deliberate. We shall see.