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R.I.'s House majority leader reveals he's gay

At a State House rally and in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Gordon Fox makes the case for same-sex marriage rights in a personal way.

07:53 AM EST on Thursday, April 1, 2004

Journal State House Bureau

PROVIDENCE -- As lawmakers again took testimony yesterday on bills to endorse and to ban same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox found himself revealing a personal story he hadn't expected to tell: that he is a gay man in a six-year relationship with his partner.

Fox, D-Providence, made the declaration first at a rally of 150 gay-marriage supporters under the State House dome, and repeated it later in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

"I am here to make the case . . . to make our case," he declared at the rally, as the crowd roared its approval. "It will get done."

Fox, 42, the second-most-powerful leader in the House, said he did not discuss the announcement ahead of time with anybody, including his partner. In fact, he said, he hadn't planned on speaking at the rally at all.

But "the moment moved me, under the rotunda," Fox said. He added, "If someone had ever said this is where I would make that announcement, I would have thought they were crazy."

Fox said he realized that people respond better not to legal arguments but to "human dynamics" and compelling personal stories. "And I'm one of those stories."

Later, he told the members of the Judiciary Committee: "I come to you as your House majority leader to charge you to listen to those stories you're going to hear today.

"We need to know, when we hear the testimony of individuals, that these people are sharing their hearts and souls with you -- that these people are not monsters, they're not caricatures," he said. "These folks, myself included, are asking for your recognition of love, commitment, dignity, respect.

"I feel I'm a normal person," Fox told his fellow lawmakers. "I'm the same Gordon Fox that you elected majority leader five minutes before I announced that at the rally, and I hope that I'll be the same Gordon Fox in your eyes five minutes thereafter."

Fox related the drive for marriage rights to the interracial marriage of his own parents, a practice once banned in many states. He also noted he is Catholic, but said, "This is not about not loving God. This is about respecting what the church teaches us about loving one another."

While Fox's announcement gave a boost yesterday to the same-sex marriage side of the debate, the majority leader noted his support of the bill is not shared by other key state leaders, including the House speaker, Senate president and governor.

"Again, it's education," he said. "In order to educate people, you have to speak from the heart, you have to speak with honesty, and I think I am really doing that.

"It's a very uphill battle," Fox said. But, "If it doesn't happen this year, I am convinced this will eventually happen. And it's going to be breaking down those barriers bit by bit by bit."

In neighboring Massachusetts, a Supreme Judicial Court decision has set the stage for legalizing gay marriage as of mid-May, although state officials there said this week they will not allow out-of-state same-sex couples to marry there if their home state explicitly bans the practice.

As the debate roils that state, Massachusetts lawmakers this week gave first-round approval to a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage but legalize civil unions. That bill would need to be passed again next session before it could go to the voters in 2006.

One bill heard yesterday in Rhode Island, sponsored in the House by Rep. Victor Moffitt, R-Coventry, would define a marriage as a contract between one man and one woman, and ban this state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Moffitt said his bill was an answer to the "activist judges" in Massachusetts. He said his intention was "to support what I consider the silent majority in Rhode Island."

The other, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, would allow same-sex couples to marry in a civilly-recognized ceremony, but would not require churches to perform same-sex weddings.

Handy said he had learned a lot about the things "that come with that piece of paper when you get married." He said his concern was that some of his friends and constituents in committed relationships "don't have that access."

More people turned out to support Moffitt's gay-marriage ban than had spoken on a similar bill in the Senate last week. Most, including a deacon from the Diocese of Providence, cited religious grounds for their position.

Tammy Orsini called same-sex marriages "repugnant." She said the country and Constitution were "founded on Christian values, and should be kept that way."

Francis Hastings, identifying himself as from "Marriage Matters Rhode Island," said civil rights dealt with race, religion and nationality. "They are not afforded to people who choose lifestyles . . . and this is a travesty of law if we allow it to happen."

And Paul Eno, of Woonsocket, questioned whether allowing same-sex marriage would cost the state "truckloads of money."

"It is radical, fringe stuff, and most of us won't stand for it," he said. At the same time, Eno suggested that lawmakers could look at making it easier for "nontraditional people" to set up some legal partnership rights.

Supporters of the gay-marriage bill delivered tiny wedding cakes yesterday to legislative leaders and Judiciary Committee members. Affixed to the cake boxes were stickers that said: "Wedding cake . . . $500, Marriage license . . . $24, Civil Rights . . . Priceless."

Kate Monteiro, head of the Rhode Island Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying denies them some 1,400 rights and responsibilities afforded heterosexual, married couples under state and federal law.

Monteiro was asked by one committee member whether she would be willing to see the question put to voters.

"We believe no civil rights for anyone should ever be subjected to a popularity contest," she replied.

Barbara Margolis, a lawyer for the state Supreme Court, said recognizing the relationship she and her female partner have is "just a matter of fairness." Margolis said the right to marry means little "if it doesn't include the right to marry the person of one's choice."

Former state Rep. Michael Pisaturo, of Cranston, and Providence Mayor David Cicilline, who are both gay, added their voices to the same-sex marriage chorus. And, late in the evening, the committee heard from former Survivor champion Richard Hatch, who said he came with his partner and his son "just to ad the 'Joe Schmo' Rhode Island face."

"Let's be the Rhode Islanders who lead the way to doing what's moral, what's ethical, what's right," he said.

I saw this happen. It was moving and brave and amazing and *sigh* I still tear up when I think of it.

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