April 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
R.I. Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Rhode Island Statehouse, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Statehouse (Photo by Max Binder via Wikimedia Commons)

The Rhode Island state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

The 26-12 vote came a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the measure.

“Of all the bills I will ever sponsor, this will be the bill that will have the most impact on my life,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who sponsored Senate Bill 38, said before the vote. She specifically thanked Senate President M. Teresa Paiva-Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes same-sex marriage, for allowing a vote in the chamber.

State Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R-North Kingstown,) who is among the five members of the Senate Republican Caucus who on Tuesday announced their support of SB 38, said before the vote he backs the proposal because of “dignity, fairness and the rule of law.” Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) repeatedly highlighted her Catholic faith before she announced she would vote for the measure.

“I will be casting my vote on the side of love,” she said.

Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut are among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Rhode Island’s civil unions law took effect in 2011, but less than 100 couples have taken advantage of it. Governor Lincoln Chafee last year signed an executive order that mandated state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions.

Senators rejected an proposed amendment to SB 38 by state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) that would have placed the issue before Rhode Island voters in 2014. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday struck down the Providence Democrat’s referendum bill by a 6-5 vote margin.

Other same-sex marriage opponents also spoke out against SB 38 before it passed.

“The Bible is clear: marriage is between one man and one woman,” state Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) said. “God’s word places me in opposition to Senate Bill 38.

The Rhode Island House of Representatives, which in January overwhelmingly approved its own same-sex marriage bill, is expected to grant final approval to SB 38 on May 2 once it goes through the House Judiciary Committee.

Chafee has said he will sign the bill into law.

“Pending the final vote by the House of Representatives, Rhode Island will no longer be an outlier in our region,” the governor said in a statement. “We will have the welcome mat out. We will be open for business, and we will once again affirm our legacy as a place that is tolerant and appreciative of diversity.”

State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who introduced the same-sex marriage bill in the House, also welcomed SB 38’s 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,” he said. “At last, marriage equality is going to happen.”

Same-sex marriage is expected to become legal in Rhode Island on Aug. 1.

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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