Keeping the experiment lively

The case of marriage equality in Rhode Island


“That it is much on their hearts … to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained … with a full liberty in religious concernments.”

(From the Rhode Island Charter, granted by King Charles II, July 8, 1663.)

As a state, we should feel significant pride in our recently passed marriage equality legislation that came into law Aug. 1. 

Years of respectful public debate, with passionate advocacy on both sides of the issue, have led to this outcome: Rhode Island now officially recognizes civil marriage between people of the same gender.  We are thoroughly engaged in the “lively experiment” to maintain the “flourishing civil state” mandated 350 years ago in the charter granted by King Charles II.

As a state, we should feel significant pride in the explicit provision of the legislation that protects the theological discretion of every faith community in Rhode Island to create and perform religious marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples  – or not.  In so doing, Rhode Island’s marriage equality legislation embodies the “full liberty in religious concernments” that is equally at the heart of the charter that created Rhode Island.

The commitment to experimentation in order to foster thriving civil society, along with fidelity to the principle of religious liberty, makes Rhode Island a stimulating and inspiring place to live.

How extraordinary that the ethos of experimentation is a foundation stone of our state.  By virtue of our lively experiment, Rhode Island’s civil culture is, and has always been, diverse, inclusive, pluralistic and aspirational.  Our continuing lively experiment requires openness and a sense of responsibility and imagination and a streak of practicality.  That these qualities continue to shape the civil life of our state should most certainly be a source of pride.

The spiritual leaders and the clergy, of an impressively broad spectrum of faith communities in Rhode Island share in our own engaging, mutually respectful and lively community.  We who serve people of Jewish and Muslim and Christian and Unitarian and Buddhist and Hindu and Bahai and Quaker faiths enjoy relationships of mutual trust and respect that are strong enough to weather the times we find ourselves on opposite sides of an intense issue like civil marriage for same-gender couples.  “Some of our best friends” are clergy whose religious commitments obviate religious marriage for same-gender couples.  “Some of our best friends” are clergy whose religious commitments require religious marriage for same-gender couples.

No matter where we stand on the comprehensive theological map of Rhode Island, we are all committed to sensing and cherishing the spark of the sacred in each other and in every human being. 

Mazal tov, congratulations, to those of us who live in this state, which recognizes civil marriage for same-gender couples.  May our civil experiments remain lively and our religious liberties flourish!

Rabbi Amy Levin (, of Temple Torat Yisrael (, East Greenwich, is president of The Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island (

Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland (, of Warwick, is president of the Governing Board, Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

The authors’ views stated herein are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent the views of their affiliated entities.