Religious Leaders Create a Drumbeat for Equality in Rhode Island
February 18, 2011 by Sharon Groves, Director, Religion and Faith Program
The following is a guest post from the Rev. Eugene T. Dyszlewski: Religious Leaders in Rhode Island have led the effort to make marriage equality a reality in the state of Rhode Island. On Wednesday, February 9, a spirited rally followed a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee. The response was tremendous.
Indeed, the rotunda was so packed that officials were forced to close the building, leaving hundreds of supporters to brave the cold outside. Inside, I was blessed to lead the Rhode Island Coalition for Marriage Equality. As the chairperson representing 134 religious leaders who have signed our declaration for marriage equality, I had the honor of presented our “Book of Religious Voices” containing forty testimonies from religious leaders around the state. A number of us were part of a panel at the hearing reflecting diverse religious voices in the state. Each of us spoke of our own faithful call to speak for equality from the deep recesses of our theological and pastoral traditions. Our stories are a reflection of the countless moving testimonies we have heard from devout people of faith who see God’s hand in the work of love between two people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Our strength as a religious coalition is in our diversity of faith traditions, yet we are resolute and united in our understanding that the concern of the legislators is civil marriage.
We anticipate that no religious group will be required to officiate or bless a marriage that is not consistent with its beliefs and understandings. And, as religious leaders who support marriage equality, we know that no religious group will be restricted from doing so either. As Rhode Islanders we are proud of our independent religious roots. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams, a minister who suffered from the intrusion of the state in religious affairs. As a people our commitment to the separation of church and state runs deep. Diversity of religious opinion and freedom of religious belief and practice is a Rhode Island legacy. In that spirit, the panel of ministers cautioned legislators that religious restraint in political discourse and decision making is critical to the maintenance of a healthy democracy. Our concern for civility of discourse and respect for difference was justified. Representatives of NOM and the Family Research Council also testified, with their usual vituperative negation and condemnation of LGBT people. Although NOM supports a Rhode Island office, it is a New Jersey based organization that has shallow roots in the state. The Family Research Council has no known connection with Rhode Island and has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The panel advised that the mistreatment of the LGBT Community must come to an end. Restricting the rights of one group of people because of who they are is unjust and oppressive. As people of faith we believe that God favors justice and never sanctions discrimination. It is this belief that propels us to speak out for equality. Rev. Eugene T. Dyszlewski is the Chairperson of the Rhode Island Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality. This is a coalition of more than 100 Rhode Island religious leaders from several denominations who support marriage equality. Rev. Dyszlewski is the Pastor of Riverside Congregational United Church of Christ and lives in Cranston with his wife, Dr. Margaret Paccione and their daughter Nicole.
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