As I walked through the streets of downtown Providence and then entered the Rhode Island Supreme Court chamber, I’ll admit that I was a bit nostalgic. After all, Providence was founded long ago (around 1636), and it is one of our country’s original 13 colonies. Rhode Island is one of the six states that comprise “New England,” and the historic Plymouth Rock is only a stone’s throw away. Providence was even named for “God’s merciful providence” with its history steeped in religious symbolism. At first, my Rhode Island experience was truly unique. Then I reminded myself why I was there—to hear a case that would determine whether the Rhode Island Supreme Court would choose to redefine marriage like its neighbor, Massachusetts. The wind quickly left my sails.
Adding to my pains was the fact that I would not be participating in the hearing. Like most appellate advocates, I live for oral argument, but I would not be arguing in this case. The Rhode Island Supreme Court expressly denied that opportunity to ADF and others. What hurt so much was not necessarily that I would be sitting on the sidelines, but that the argument to be presented to the court would be one-sided. Yes, there would be only one side arguing the case, and only one viewpoint shared with the court. The same-sex couple, who both want same-sex “divorce” rights in Rhode Island, would be the only ones entitled to share their perspective with the court. Though they were technically on opposite sides, their briefs did not conflict and were virtual mirror images. Nobody disputed that their legal perspective was identical, but the Rhode Island Supreme Court chose to indulge itself in that legal fiction.
Austin R. Nimocks is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that has defended marriage and religious liberty in courts throughout the U.S.