April 23, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
R.I. Senate committee approves marriage bill
Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

A Rhode Island Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the state.

The 7-4 vote came a month after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a marathon hearing on Senate Bill 38. The Rhode Island House of Representatives in January overwhelmingly approved the same-sex marriage proposal.

“We have before us a historic piece of legislation,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored SB 38, said before the vote took place.

Ray Sullivan, campaign director for Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, applauded the committee’s vote.

“This is an incredible and historic step forward in the campaign to ensure all loving, committed couples in Rhode Island have the freedom to marry,” he said. “We are pleased and proud that the members of the Judiciary Committee were so receptive to the thousands of their constituents who reached out and urged them to vote yes on Sen. Nesselbush’s bill.”

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but only a few dozen couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee, who supports nuptials for gays and lesbians, last year signed an executive order that ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

“Rhode Island currently stands as an island of inequality in our region,” Chafee said in a statement after the vote. “At this time of intense economic competition, we cannot afford to lag behind our New England neighbors and New York in this important area.”

The full Senate will vote on SB 38 tomorrow afternoon.

GOP senators back marriage bill

All five members of the Senate Republican Caucus announced their support of the proposal hours before the committee approved it.

“We support Senate Bill 38 because it rightfully extends the civil aspects of marriage to all Rhode Islanders while protecting the freedom of religion our state was founded upon,” state Sens. Dennis Algiere, David Bates, Dawson Hodgson, Nicholas Kettle and Chris Ottiano said in a joint statement. “Gay and lesbian couples deserve to be treated equally under the law, and at the same time churches, synagogues and mosques in our state must be free to exercise their faith and their sacraments as they see fit. This bill strikes the right balance and should be passed by the Senate.”

Committee members on Tuesday also voted 6-5 to kill a measure that would have placed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island on the 2014 ballot.

“Members of the committee heard from their constituents in strong opposition to putting fundamental rights on the ballot, and we thank them for defeating this divisive and harmful referendum bill,” Sullivan said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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