January 3, 2013 at 7:41 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
R.I. lawmakers introduce same-sex marriage bills

Rhode Island, Donna Nesselbush, gay news, Washington Blade

Donna Nesselbush

Two Rhode Island legislators on Thursday introduced bills that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Ocean State.

“We are long overdue,” state Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston,) who has introduced a same-sex marriage bill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives each year for more than a decade, said. “Rhode Island, the colony founded on the principle of personal liberty, is now the only New England state that doesn’t allow same-gender couples equal marriage. Rhode Islanders recognize that same-gender couples deserve the rights and responsibilities that other couples already enjoy, and support has been getting wider every year.”

Openly lesbian state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket) introduced a similar proposal in the Senate.

“After many years, I have finally found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, the woman I want to marry,” she said. “We are both spiritual and want to deepen and strengthen our devotion. We are deeply in love, and are hoping and praying for marriage equality so we can tie the knot. But this is not about me or us. This is about the thousands of loving gay and lesbian couples who want and deserve the right to marry.”

Nine states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage.

Less than 50 couples have taken advantage of Rhode Island’s civil unions law since it took effect in July 2011. The Ocean State remains the only New England state without a same-sex marriage law.

Forty-two members of the House have co-sponsored the measure in their chamber, while 11 state senators signed onto Nesselbush’s proposal. Gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) said he remains committed to bringing the measure to a full vote by the end of this month.

Nesselbush said Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport,) who opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples, has also pledged to allow a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee once the House approves it.

“With nine states, the District of Columbia and the president of the United States all embracing marriage equality, we have never been closer,” Nesselbush said. “Let this be the year Rhode Island joins the burgeoning force for equality that is sweeping our nation.”

Ray Sullivan, campaign manager of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, applauded the lawmakers who introduced the measures. He noted to the Washington Blade on Thursday that 53 of the state’s 113 legislators signed onto the measures as co-sponsors.

“We’ve been working and building towards this moment for a very long time,” Sullivan said. “The momentum is palpable and it’s great to see so many pro-equality legislators standing up for equal rights for all loving committed couples.”

Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order last year mandating state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in neighboring Massachusetts, Connecticut and other states. He has publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians, and said he will sign a same-sex marriage bill if one were to reach his desk.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • I hope to see Marriage Equality pass in both Rhode Island and Illinois. and I'm glad to hear that Colorado is going to push for a Civil Union law which is a stepping stone in the right direction.

  • Kudos to Rep. Handy and Sen. Nesselbush!

  • I'm a little surprised that, two years after Gov. Lincoln Chafee took office, that only NOW is there going to be action in the Rhode Island legislature on a bill to accord full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples in the Ocean State.

    It was well known that such legislation had no chance of becoming law while Chafee's predecessor, conservative Republican Donald Carcieri, remained in office to veto it. But with the independent and socially progressive Chafee in the governor's office and Democrats holding overwhelming three-fourths majorities in both houses of the Legislature since 2011, I fail to understand why it has taken so long to even introduce a marriage equality bill.

    Of course, depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in its ruling expected next June on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and on California's Proposition 8, What happens in Providence could end up being a mere formality.

  • This time marriage equality will pass. Previously, the opposition of the Senate president stymied the effort. Governor Chafee wisely signed an executive order requiring Rhode Island to recognize the same-sex marriages performed in other states, including its neighbors. Since Rhode Island is such a small state and all its neighbors offer same-sex marriage, it is very easy for Rhode Islanders to marry in a neighboring state. Hence, denying same-sex marriage in Rhode Island only hurts those in the state’s wedding industry. That is why the legislature will pass marriage equality this time around.

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