PROVIDENCE – Voters would get to decide whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry in Rhode Island if legislation that Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien filed this past Thursday passes.
Brien wants a referendum question on the 2012 ballot asking voters to approve or reject a constitutional amendment specifying that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the State of Rhode Island."
A self-proclaimed conservative Democrat, Brien says he believes the issue of what constitutes a marriage is very important because marriage "serves as a societal cornerstone."
But, he adds, the issue should not be decided by the General Assembly. The House Judiciary Committee, of which Brien is a member, will take up a bill to allow same-sex marriage next Wednesday. Marriage, Brien said, is so important and personal an issue for voters that they should decide it themselves.
"Everyone has the right to their opinion about this,” Brien said in a written statement, “and many people on both sides hold passionate views. These differing opinions are informed by a host of factors including upbringing, personal experience, faith background, ethnic and cultural traditions, and other factors.
“When you have this kind of a fundamental issue with such importance to society, where people feel passionately on both sides, the proper thing to do is to allow the people themselves to decide,” Brien added. “The people are the sovereign rulers in Rhode Island, not the politicians, and putting the issue on the ballot for the people to decide is the right thing to do,"
Brien points to an August, 2010 poll commissioned by the National Organization for Marriage-RI, an anti-gay marriage group, in which 82 percent of respondents reportedly said that Rhode Island voters should have an opportunity to vote on the issue.
“Across the country,” Brien said, “31 states have let the people vote on the issue and in each case one man/one woman marriage was protected by the people.”
Brien said he believes allowing Rhode Islanders to make this decision themselves “is the most honest way to decide a social issue that divides many Rhode Islanders. Rhode Islanders have had the right to vote on ports, casinos, and even changing the name of the state. Those issues pale in comparison to what the definition of marriage is, and should be, in the State of Rhode Island."
"The right of the people to define their own society through the vote is the most basic civil right we have in the United States, and I believe the only democratic way to determine what our state recognizes as a marriage is through a vote of the people," he added.