It must be sad and lonely being Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed these days.
Her anti-equality allies RI-NOM is being outed as liars all over the media, and Governor Chafee’s op/ed in Sunday’s Providence Journal makes clear that she is not only standing in the way of social justice, but also economic growth.
It’s worth noting that no community in the Ocean State would benefit more from same sex nuptials than Newport, and the local chamber of commerce has called on Paiva Weed to support marriage equality.
But the hardest part of being on the wrong side of history must be the real life stories of being oppressed. Here’s a copy of a letter that Katrina Chaves, a Massachusetts-based LGBTQ activist and former /future Rhode Island College student, wrote to her recently:
Dear Senator Paiva Weed,
My name is Katrina Chaves, and I am writing this letter to ask you to come out in favor of same-sex marriage, and consider the legacy you are leaving behind. I admittedly know very little about you, and would not have been inclined to write, had I not learned of the ways in which you could potentially affect my future, and the future of my community. I urge you to publicly pledge your support, as I urge all Americans, for there is much at stake.
As a Massachusetts resident who hopes to return to the state where I graduated college, I must say that Rhode Island has given me more than I can describe in a few paragraphs. Hopefully, I have returned the favor, spending nearly a decade protesting, laughing, loving, living, and working in Providence. I plan on continuing to give back to the communities that shaped my identity and formed some of my most cherished memories. However, this will not be entirely possible, if progress is not made.
If it sounds like I am writing about the “gay marriage” issue here, let me clarify: I am not. I have never identified as gay, and will not suddenly become gay by marrying my female partner. Sexuality is far more fluid and complex than that, and (regardless of how it is portrayed) love is not black and white. It is often indifferent to gender. Intimacy can be cultivated between two people of any race, sex, class, and cultural background. I am writing about same-sex marriage because it is a personal and political issue – a civil rights issue- that impacts the quality of my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as well as that of future generations.
When I marry my partner, an adventurous, witty, and hardworking Marine Corps veteran, it will not matter that she is female. As we walk down the aisle, the only thing that will matter is the love and unconditional support that we bring to each other’s lives.
As an activist, I can easily list the many ways in which society will be improved by allowing LGBTI folks like us to marry. Being the only state in New England without same-sex marriage makes RI businesses less competitive; one cannot underestimate the potential boost to our economy as a result of weddings and engagements.
Moreover, this state has a history of religious freedom and tolerance that will not be affected by legalization, which 56% of Rhode Island voters are in favor of, anyway.
Still, all logic and reason aside, it is not my goal to persuade you with a rational explanation of how the “pros” outweigh the “cons” here. Rather, I invite you to listen to your conscience, if you have one, and examine your own humanity. What are the values you stand for? How do you want to be remembered? Do you believe in doing the right thing, simply for the sake of doing the right thing? Do you believe that equality is “the right thing?”
Perhaps you have heard about former state Rep. Charles Knowles, a man who, upon much reflection, admitted he was wrong to oppose same-sex marriage. He recently testified, “I viewed my opposition basically on moral grounds, as a Christian, but I’ve also said to myself that the First Amendment separates church and state. I believe it goes both ways.
The government shouldn’t be putting its nose into my religious beliefs or lack thereof, and I think people’s religion should stay out of this building. When I was a lawmaker, I should have looked at the law and the Constitution before I made up my mind based on what was in my heart.”
As much as I appreciate his transformation and newfound support, I find his path to this conclusion a bit disheartening. I think it is our job to decide what we feel is humane, fair, and just, in a broader sense. We must let our moral compass guide us in the right direction, in any career, and follow that code of ethics even when there are repercussions. Yes, even if it makes you unpopular in political and personal spaces. Charles Knowles was not wrong because he made up his mind “based on what was in his heart.” He was wrong because his heart apparently told him that other human beings are less deserving of equality and justice.
So, I now ask you, Senator, to be honest with yourself, and with your constituents.
What does your heart say?