Ocean State News Update: Same-sex marriage passes the Rhode Island Senate

by John Perilli

In a 26-12 vote Wednesday, the Rhode Island Senate passed SB-38, a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enjoy the full rights of marriage in the Ocean State. The vote was cast after a lengthy floor debate that lasted over an hour and a half and saw senators on both sides of the same-sex marriage aisle give impassioned speeches for and against. In the end, though, the supporters of same sex marriage were able to pull out enough votes in the more conservative General Assembly chamber for a resounding Senate victory.

“The eyes of the nation were upon us, and 26 senators cast a historic vote to join the force for marriage equality that is sweeping our nation,” said Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), the bill’s Senate sponsor and herself openly gay. “I thank my colleagues at this proud moment in Rhode Island history.”

Alongside SB-38, the Senate also passed HB-5015, the same-sex marriage bill that passed in Rhode Island House of Representatives in January. Since both of these were edited in the Senate Judiciary Committee, they will each have to clear the House again in order to become law, but this is considered to be a fait accompli. Then, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, himself a supporter of same-sex marriage, will give the bill his final approval.

“I am always proud to be a Rhode Islander, but never more so than today,” Chafee said. “I thank the senators who have taken a stand to move Rhode Island forward and commend the Senate president for calling the roll.”

The day did not start out looking so certain for same-sex marriage supporters. The first vote in the Senate was on an amendment introduced by Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence and North Providence) that would have put the question of same-sex marriage on the ballot. After a brief discussion, the amendment was trounced in a 28 to 10 vote against.

Then, the supporters of same-sex marriage took the day and ran with it. Senator after senator, including the more conservative Sens. Leonidas Raptakis (D-Coventry) and Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence), spoke up on marriage equality’s behalf. The vote was greeted by loud applause in the Bell Room beside the tall central rotunda in the State House, where supporters of the same-sex marriage bill were gathered to watch the outcome. The same-sex marriage opponents who had occupied the rotunda appeared sullen, but resolute as they left.

“The Bible is clear: God ordained marriage between one man and one woman,” said Sen. Harold Metts (D-Providence) in his floor speech, echoing a widely spoken argument on the opposition side. His speech against the same-sex marriage bill was one of the most impassioned of the day.

The bill does not go into effect until Aug. 1. Rhode Island is on track to become the 10th state nationwide to legalize same-sex nuptials and the final state in New England to do so.

“Pending the final vote by the House of Representatives, Rhode Island will no longer be an outlier in our region,” Chafee said. “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.”


photo by Jef Nickerson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/woneffe/4048201691/