R.I. General Assembly got it right

Gay marriage legislation has been introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly for close to three decades. Last Wednesday’s vote virtually guarantees that same sex marriage will be legal here as the legislation returns to the House for a procedural vote on small changes made to the bill on the Senate side, and to both houses thereafter. The General Assembly did the right thing in supporting marriage equality. Here’s why.
One person’s opinion on any issue does not grant the prerogative to veto the life choices of another, unless there is a compelling public interest to inhibit that choice. Despite nearly  30 years of debate, no such overarching argument has been made. This country is founded on the concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a fundamental right. There is no viable  argument for the state to ban such a union between same sex partners. Choosing to marry is a civil right not subject to others’ whims.
Some diehards reading this will dredge up the postulation about whether folks can marry animals or children in order to create a controversy where none exists. Mutual and sentient choice is a sine qua non of any union to such an extent that even heterosexual marriages can be annulled if the aforesaid requisite precepts of consent are absent. These arguments are mere red herrings.
The legislation clearly protects religious leaders from having to preside over a union its theology considers immoral. This exemption actually isn’t really necessary since the law already protects clergy from any forced officiating at a ceremony.  In any event the added language takes away any squawking from religious objectors.
Certain vendors cannot refuse to provide services. At first blush this may look like an imposition. It is not. During the civil rights movement for minorities some white folk tried to inject their personal objections to serving cocktails to black patrons or giving them a room in a hotel. The courts uniformly struck such restrictions on the basis of the commerce clause and the state action involved in licensing those in business. Exceptions were made for people who had one apartment, for example,   to rent in a house where the lessor lived. The exception disappeared when people chose to be in a rental business of multiple units. If you offer a service to some you have to offer it to all without discrimination.
Much of the objections made against same sex marriage remind me of the doom and gloom predictions surrounding mixed race marriages. It wasn’t all that long ago that it was illegal for a black person to marry a white person. In many religious traditions marriage was discouraged between people of different faiths. Similar prohibitions of marriage, even between people of different nationalities, were routine. The public has to decide whether these obstacles, when toppled, led to hell in a hand basket or a more ecumenical environment. Certainly, adherents of the original prohibitions remained free to follow the dictates of race and religion so nothing jeopardized their beliefs.
I doubt that there will be a rush to the altar after an initial response. Couples today live together without the “ring”. An individual is entitled to his opinion about such an arrangement but can’t stop it, except for his own choices. That’s the way it ought to be where a fundamental prerogative is involved.


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