Ocean State News Update: Same-sex marriage legal in Rhode Island

by John Perilli

After a prolonged legislative battle, Rhode Island has officially become the 10th state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage. Independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who made marriage equality a central tenet of his inaugural speech in 2011, signed the bill on the steps of the State House this past Thursday. He was joined by Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D-Providence), the first openly gay Speaker of a U.S. state legislature; Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket), the only openly gay member of the Rhode Island Senate; Rhode Island’s entire federal delegation; and many other guests.

“In January 2011, I stood before you in the same spot where I stand today,” said Chafee in his speech at the State House. “I said then: ‘When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality.’ I believe those words just as much today as I did then, and I am proud and humbled to make the Marriage Equality Act the law of the land in Rhode Island.”

Just hours before the signing, both identical same-sex marriage bills, SB-38A and HB-5015B, were passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives 56-15. This was the second time in the 2013 session the House voted on same-sex marriage, after it passed previous versions of both bills in January by a vote of 51-19. Both bills are scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1.

“Every generation has its calling and its chance to ease the pain of discrimination and to advance the human cause,” said Nesselbush, the bill’s primary sponsor in the Senate. “Women’s liberation emboldened black liberation, which spawned the yearning for gay liberation … because deep down we do hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal and that America’s promise is indeed for liberty and justice for all.”

Rhode Island’s passage of same-sex marriage represents a broad shift of public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage. In 2011, the Rhode Island General Assembly did not have enough support to pass a full marriage bill and instead settled for civil unions. It took only one session for full same-sex marriage to pass after that.

Similarly, the states of Delaware, Minnesota, and Illinois are now considering legalizing same-sex marriage, and there is an active lawsuit in New Mexico calling upon the southwestern state to voice an opinion one way or the other. Recent polling has found that 53 percent of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage, including 70 percent of those born after 1980. New York Times blogger and popular statistician Nate Silver predicts that by 2020, same-sex marriage could be supported by a majority of citizens in as many as 44 states.

This is a change that has not only social but economic ramifications. As states try to rebuild after the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009, they will be looking to attract talented young workers and entrepreneurs as they transition to an economy rooted much more in human capital than ever before.

“It is fitting that we are gathered today at our marvelous State House. This gorgeous building, towering majestically over the capital city, is a reminder of the extraordinary wealth that once flowed through Rhode Island,” said Chafee. “We can have that prosperity again — through growing our existing companies and the new economy of high-tech startups, the creative sector, and ‘the meds and the eds.’ The talented workers who are driving this economy want to live in a place that reflects their values. And now, Rhode Island does.”


Photo by Freedom to Marry: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marriageequality/4840313915/