Felag: Let voters decide gay marriage

Warren Senator Walter Felag Jr. would like to see voters decide whether gay marriage should be legally recognized in Rhode Island.

Following the House of Representatives’ historic vote last month to legalize gay marriage, Sen. Felag has signed on as co-sponsor of a bill that would bring a similar question before the voters in 2014.

Though the legislation proposed by Sen. Frank Ciccone of Providence and North Providence would define marriage as “the lawful union between one man and one woman,” Sen. Felag said he is not necessarily opposed to gay marriage and in fact last year voted for the state’s Civil Unions bill which was ultimately passed into law. He has voted in favor of other similar legislation that deal with fairness and equity, he said, and will continue to do so.

However, he said, he signed on as a co-sponsor of Sen. Ciccone’s legislation because “the people should decide.”

“My stance is to put it on the ballot,” he said.

Sen. Ciccone’s legislation would keep Rhode Island’s civil union law for same-sex couples in place, but would change the state Constitution to prohibit official recognition of same-sex marriages.

Meanwhile, Sen. Felag said he does not know yet how he will vote on a marriage equality bill proposed by Sen. Donna Nesselbush, which mirrors that passed by the House last month. Sen. Nesselbush’s bill is due to be heard in the Senate Judiciary, but Sen. Felag, who is not on the Judiciary, doesn’t know if it will make it out to the full Senate.

“Who knows what will happen,” he said. “It may not even come out for” a full hearing.

As for gay marriage, he said, he suspects that ultimately it will be an issue argued by the United States Supreme Court. With different states debating different marriage and equality legislation, there are many differences and many different definitions at play. Taking the issue to a referendum, he said, will help clarify Rhode Island’s wishes.

“There’s different variations from state to state,” he said. “We should be looking at a broader definition of family and equality. Marriage has evolved over the years; we’ve evolved over the years.”

House vote

The Senate bills come on the heels of a historic vote last month when House members voted 51 to 19 to legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island.

Though most East Bay House members voted for the legislation, one did not: Democratic Rep. Jan Malik.

“Marriage pre-dates government,” Rep. Malik said. “It should not be re-defined by law.”

Rep. Malik said he supports equal rights for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, and he doesn’t believe any group should be subject to discrimination. However, he said he believes the term “marriage” should continue to apply just to a man and woman, as it has for time immemorial.

“I just couldn’t vote for (gay marriage),” he said. “It’s not a marriage to me. I don’t think anybody should be discriminated against in this country. They should all have the same rights as we have but I can’t call it a marriage.”

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