May 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Rhode Island same-sex marriage bill becomes law
Lincoln Chafee, Democratic National Convention, gay news, Washington Blade

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday signed a bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State.

“Today we are making history,” he said. “We are living up to the ideals of our founders.”

Rhode Islanders United for Marriage Campaign Director Ray Sullivan, gay House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence) and other same-sex marriage supporters joined Chafee on the steps of the State House in Providence as he signed the measure into law. The state House of Representatives gave final approval to the bill by a 56-15 vote margin less than an hour before the signing ceremony.

“This law does not take anything away from a heterosexual couple,” lesbian state Rep. Deb Ruggiero (D-Jamestown) said. “Nothing is going to change, but tomorrow morning for gays and lesbians it’s going to be a very, very different world.”

State Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) referenced her gay brother when she spoke in support of the measure.

“I rise in support of love in the state of Rhode Island,” she said.

Deputy Majority Leader Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence,) who introduced a bill that would have prompted a same-sex marriage referendum in 2014, once again spoke against nuptials for gays and lesbians before the vote.

“There is no man made law that can ever replace, supplant, suppress or subjugate the natural law,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence urged Rhode Island Catholics in a letter that will run in its newspaper on May 9 they should “examine their consciences very carefully” before they decide to “endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies.”

“Like many others, I am profoundly disappointed that Rhode Island has approved legislation that seeks to legitimize ‘same-sex marriage,’” he writes.

Christopher Plante, regional director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, also criticized the bill’s passage.

“Redefining marriage into a genderless institution to satisfy the demands of a small but politically powerful group is short-sighted policy that fails to take into account the rights and needs of the generations to come,” he told the Providence Journal before Chafee signed it into law.

Rhode Island is the 10th state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Gays and lesbians can legally exchange vows in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut as well as in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Iowa, Washington and D.C. The Delaware Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the First State.

“This is a great day in Rhode Island,” Fox said. “It is also a wonderful day for the generations of future Rhode Islanders who may never know a time when some people didn’t have all the same rights as others, and who hopefully will grow up wondering how on earth that ever could have been the law.”

“Governor, with the stroke of your pen, you will undo centuries of discrimination,” state Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket,) who introduced the bill in the state Senate, added before Chafee signed the measure into law. “Our moment has arrived.”

Rhode Island’s same-sex marriage law will take effect on Aug. 1.

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

  • With Rhode Island now having legalized same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian couples in all six New England states have the freedom to marry.

    With same-sex marriage legal in 10 states plus the District of Columbia — and the Supreme Court poised to rule in June on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (and, by extension, the 31 other state laws that ban it) — it could potentially be the most joyous Pride Season ever this summer.

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