Rhode Island is about to become the 10th state in the country to legalize marriage equality.
On April 30, Rhode Island’s House Judiciary Committee voted to send its marriage equality bill, S38, to the House for a final vote on May 2, where it is expected to pass.
The bill was approved on April 24, winning in the Senate with a 26 – 12 vote. It was already passed by the House in January, but is being returned there due to small changes made by the Senate; the amendments make certain that religious organizations aren’t legally obligated to perform same-sex marriages, and thus can’t be sued for discrimination if they refuse to.
The state’s governor, Lincoln Chafee, has stated his support for the issue and is expected to pass the bill quickly once it gets through the House.
All of the Republican members of Rhode Island’s Senate, who hold five seats out of thirty-eight, released a joint statement on April 23 announcing that “we believe that freedom means freedom for everyone, and that every citizen of Rhode Island deserves the freedom to marry the person they love.”
Rhode Island is largely Catholic, and the last state in New England to legalize marriage equality. Civil unions for same-sex couples have been allowed in the state since 2011, but few have sought them; though they will no longer be available once marriage equality becomes law, the state will still recognize existing ones.
“After 16 years of fighting for marriage equality we are thrilled that we’ve finally crossed the finish line” Rhode Island Pride’s Vice President, Kate Monteiro, told 429Magazine. “We did it in truly unique Rhode Island fashion—including the unanimous support of the Senate Republicans, the Episcopal bishop, and a whole lot of phone calls, supermarket conversations and door-knocking shoe leather. When Senator Mary Ellen Goodwin, devout Catholic and perennial ‘no’ vote on LGBT issues said ‘I will be casting my vote on the side of love,’ we knew that it might have taken us a decade and a half but in the end, love would carry the day.”
The state’s first legal same-sex marriages could take place as soon as August 1, when the legislation is scheduled to take effect.