URI’s director of the Gender and Sexuality Center praises Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide

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Annie Russell says ruling is monumental and life-changing

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 29, 2015 – The University of Rhode Island’s Gender and Sexuality Center is hosting a barbecue Monday, June 29 to celebrate a recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.


“We’ll provide food, music, and an atmosphere of complete elation,” says Annie Russell, center director. “Just bring yourselves to join in our celebration.”


The event will start at 3 p.m. at the newly opened center, 19 Upper College Road, on the Kingston campus. The public is invited.


The landmark opinion, released Friday, ruled that same-sex couples can marry nationwide – a historic victory for gay rights advocates. Married same-sex couples will now enjoy the same legal rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples.


“Mark this date on your calendars,” says Russell. “June 26, 2015 is a date that fundamentally changes the discourse in the United States on LGBTQ identity, affirmation of identity and legal validation of LGBTQ lives.”


As a young person growing up in Indiana – the country’s heartland – Russell, who identifies as a lesbian, says that one of the most difficult things for her to imagine was that she would never be able to marry legally.


“I knew that I would absolutely have a wedding, but I never thought it would be a public ceremony, let alone that my state and national government would recognize it as legal,” she says. “Words can’t express what this day truly means to people like me and to so many others who have fought.

“People who have fought to be able to live openly, holding partner’s hands, and residing together,” she says. “People who have endured and continue to face threats, violence, and hatred for seeking the legal status and recognition of commitment and love. People who have watched their pensions, benefits or children stripped away, despite legal documentation guaranteeing protection. People who believed, against all odds, that one day, our country and government would see us as full and equal citizens under the law.”


The ruling, a 5-4 decision, asserts that it is “demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the nation’s society. The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may have long seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”


Russell says the decision bolsters “my feeling of inclusion in my own country.” But her feelings, she says, are tempered with the knowledge that the LGBTQ community has more progress to make with parental rights, transgender inclusion, health care, hate crimes, immigration issues and non-discrimination laws – all of which require dedication and immediate attention.


“Now that marriage equality is a reality in our world, our community must look to these aspects of our movement with renewed energy and strength,” she says. “Indeed, the fight is not over. In many ways, we’ve only just begun.”


The ruling comes just weeks after the opening of URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center, making the University the first institution of higher education in the country to design and build a freestanding LGBTQ center. The center runs more than 100 programs every year to educate and support people on issues related to gender and sexuality.


The center also sponsors speakers who discuss these issues and provides “safe zone” programs and other workshops to train students, faculty and staff on issues about the LGBTQ community.


“URI was and is leading strongly in its advocacy and activism surrounding LGBTQ issues,” says Russell. “Today’s victory is another moment in our history that we can now celebrate in a beautiful new center, with the whole community present. The sky is the limit for what we can continue to accomplish.”


Pictured above:

URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center.

Annie Russell, director of URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center.

Photos by Nora Lewis.