Capping off what has been a very busy and optimistic week, on Thursday night advocates for marriage equality in Rhode Island offered testimony before what is perhaps their most challenging audience: members of the Rhode Island Senate.
In a room that was packed to overflowing several hours early, members of a Rhode Island Senate committee heard testimony from marriage equality advocates and opponents late into Thursday night.
Much of the testimony was understandably emotional, perhaps none more so than Patricia Baker, 54, a corrections officer from Johnston, R.I., who in December was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
Requiring an oxygen tank to breathe, Patricia shared her story with lawmakers as her partner, Deborah, wiped away tears. Shortly after being told that her cancer is incurable, Patricia was stunned to learn that Deborah will not be able to collect Patricia’s hard-earned Social Security benefits upon her death. This realization prompted Patricia to become an outspoken advocate for marriage equality during what are the perhaps the last few months of her life.
“I worked all my life for those benefits,” Baker told lawmakers. ”We own a house. We pay taxes. But they told me my Social Security benefits would go back into the system when I die. How is she [Deborah] going to keep the house?”
In the Rhode Island House, the legislation has the support of House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay and a co-sponsor of the bill.
Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee is also supportive of the legislation, having called for marriage equality in Rhode Island during his inaugural address.
The greatest challenge is expected in the Senate. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed opposes the bill.