Little Rhode Island made history last week, becoming the tenth state in the nation, and the final state in New England, to grant all of our citizens the freedom to marry the person they love. Passage of this measure hinged on the approval of the State Senate, where I am privileged to serve. It ultimately passed with a bipartisan majority of more than two-thirds.
The vote also marked the first time a Republican legislative caucus unanimously supported marriage equality.
In our view, establishing civil marriage rights for same-sex couples accords with both the U.S. Constitution and our values as Republicans. As Americans, we embrace principles of freedom, dignity and respect for the rule of law; and as Republican legislators, we strive to apply values of limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise to every decision before us. Consistency, as much as fairness, compels us to apply those values to the government’s treatment of all of our state’s citizens.
The freedom to marry the person you love is a fundamental right. For most of us, the prospect of falling in love and building a life together with our spouse is an essential component of that pursuit of happiness so profoundly articulated by our forefathers. In a country where we are free to live our lives as we see fit, so long as we do not infringe upon the rights of others, freedom must really mean freedom for everyone. The marriage of my neighbor, gay or straight, will have no impact on my own. Indeed, society at large and the institution of marriage itself will only be strengthened when more individuals choose a life of love, commitment and stability.
Other states are now poised to join Rhode Island in guaranteeing all of their citizens have equal access to civil marriage laws. Such momentum is thanks in part to the courage of a growing number of Republican lawmakers who have decided to stand up for the freedom to marry. These Republicans honor the traditions of our party, standing up for the rights of individuals against a government that would tell them how they should live their lives.
This changing perspective is crucial not only for achieving fairness for our citizens, but also in strengthening our party. Rigid opposition to the concept that gays and lesbians deserve equal treatment under the law alienates not only the LGBT community, but also their friends and families. With the future of our country at stake, our party cannot afford to allow abrasive social policies to deprive us of the talent, support and resources of those who share our core values but will not abide the mistreatment of their loved ones by government.
While recent developments make us hopeful that national acceptance of marriage equality is attainable, it remains clear that the only way all American citizens will be viewed equally under the law, regardless of where they live, is if the Supreme Court acts in defense of their fundamental rights. By acknowledging that same-sex marriage deserves the same civil recognition as marriage between heterosexual couples, the Supreme Court would set a crucial precedent that ends discrimination at the national level.
The Supreme Court has ruled 14 times in cases such as Loving v. Virginia that marriage is indeed a fundamental right, and we believe the justices should stand up for marriage once again. We are confident that our nation will eventually embrace the freedom to marry, but until then, hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian Americans and their families will suffer from the consequences of the current system, from unequal treatment under our tax system to difficulties in obtaining proper health care. They should not have to wait.
Loving and committed LGBT couples deserve to have their rights and relationships recognized not only by their families and peers, but also by our nation’s government. The basic rights of these individuals should not be contingent on a majority vote where the outcome could be the difference between injustice and equality.
We’re proud that Rhode Island, and now all of New England, has established laws that treat all of our citizens with fairness, justice and equality. However, it will take the firm partnership and hardened resolve of all three branches of our state and federal governments to ensure fairness, freedom and equality under the law for everyone.
Dawson Hodgson, a Republican, was elected to the Rhode Island Senate on November 2, 2010. A former prosecutor, Senator Hodgson and his wife Megan reside in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.