Rhode Island Becomes 10th State to Pass Marriage Equality
Rhode Island has now joined the five other New England states in allowing same-sex couples to wed. It is the tenth state in the country to do so. Late in the afternoon on May 2, the House approved the marriage bill 56-14, following last week’s historic Senate vote. Governor Lincoln D. Chafee (I), who last year signed an executive order requiring all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, then signed the bill into law.
"This finishes off New England -- we now have a region of the country that is 100 percent for the freedom to marry," said Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, which backs same-sex marriage.
The House approved an earlier version of the legislation in January. The bill had never previously emerged from a committee on either side since first being introduced in 1997.
Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) who has been a staunch advocate for the legislation, praised his colleagues in the Senate following the 26-12 vote on Apr. 24.
"I am thrilled that the Senate passed an historic equality bill which will enable all loving couples in Rhode Island to have the freedom to marry," Fox wrote. "I thank all the Senators who supported the bills sponsored by Senator Donna Nesselbush and Representative Art Handy (D-Cranston), two unwavering advocates for marriage equality."
Handy, who has introduced the legislation (2013-H 5015B) in the House for each of the last 11 years, also celebrated the passage.
"For the many Rhode Islanders who have been waiting all their lives for equality and recognition that they deserve the same rights and responsibilities as their neighbors, today is a great relief; at last, marriage equality is going to happen," Handy said.
"This is an historic day -- we are close to the end of a journey that began in 1997, and today we took a giant step toward ensuring all loving, committed couples in Rhode Island have the freedom to marry," said Ray Sullivan, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign director. "When we began this campaign in January, many thought we’d never succeed in the Senate. But, thanks to the tireless efforts of the many volunteers who knocked on more than 25,000 doors, made more than 12,000 calls and sent nearly 2,000 letters to their legislators -- we did it."
GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) staff attorney Janson Wu said, "Marriage equality in Rhode Island marriage will bring to a close GLAD’s ’6 x 12’ campaign, our initiative to achieve marriage equality in all six New England states by 2012 -- albeit a few months later than originally projected."
Opponents Last-Ditch Efforts Fail
Opponents of same-sex marriage launched a last ditch effort to stop the bills from passing. Citing a "flawed understanding of marriage" and a "shocking lack of religious liberty protections," the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)’s Rhode Island chapter said that, "redefining marriage into a genderless institution that intentionally denies children the love of both a mother and a father is fundamentally flawed public policy."
NOM also said the bills, should they pass, need to include protections for "individuals, small businesses and religious-based charitable organizations and educational groups" so that they "are not targeted...for refusing to accept this radical redefinition of marriage."
The legislation, which would take effect Aug. 1, removes gender-specific language from the section of the general laws that governs eligibility for marriage. It inserts language that allows any person to marry any other eligible person, regardless of gender.
The bill also contains a provision that allows same-sex couples who previously entered into civil unions, that have been legal in the state since 2011, to convert those into marriages.
The first weddings could take place Aug. 1, when the new law would take effect.