Senate approves same-sex marriage bill
Final approval expected next week by House, which OK’d earlier version
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today voted 26 to 12 today to allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island.
The bills still have to clear an additional House vote before they can be sent to the governor, and that vote is tentatively expected Thursday, May 2, following a likely Judiciary Committee vote on Tuesday. The House approved an earlier version of the legislation in January, so today’s vote meant both chambers this year have indicated their approval of the measure, which had never previously emerged from a committee on either side since first being introduced in 1997.
“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. I thank my colleagues at this proud moment in Rhode Island history,” said Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), the primary sponsor of the Senate bill(2013-S 0038A). “President Obama stated that our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated equally under the law, and each day, we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America which ends with the promise of liberty and justice for all…The bill moves us forward toward those ideals.”
Said Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who has introduced the legislation (2013-H 5015B) in the House for each of the last 11 years, “For the many Rhode Islanders who have been waiting all their lives for equality and recognition that they deserve the same rights and responsibilities as their neighbors, today is a great relief; at last, marriage equality is going to happen. Many hardworking, dedicated Rhode Islanders have poured countless hours of work into this cause, and in so many instances, have bared their souls publicly to make the case for it. I look forward not just to the wonderful day soon when marriage equality becomes law, but to the many joyful weddings that will soon be celebrated by Rhode Island families because of it.”
Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, who last year signed an executive order requiring all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, supports the bill and has pledged to sign it.
The legislation, which would take effect Aug. 1, removes gender-specific language from the section of the general laws that governs eligibility for marriage. It inserts language that allows any person to marry any other eligible person, regardless of gender.
It contains a provision that allows couples who have entered into civil unions in Rhode Island since they were established in July 2011 to convert those unions into marriages by applying to the clerk in the municipality where it was recorded to have it recorded as a marriage without having to apply for anything else or pay a fee. If they would prefer, they would be eligible to apply for a marriage license and have the marriage solemnized.
The bill contains language reiterating the constitutionally guaranteed freedom for religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith, and stipulates that under no circumstances will clergy or others authorized to perform marriages be obligated by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage.
While Representative Handy’s and Senator Nesselbush’s bills contained variations when introduced, they were amended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved them yesterday, to match and hone their religious exemptions.
Besides restating the constitutional guarantee that no church or religious leader shall be required to perform same-sex marriages, those exemptions now allow religious organizations, including fraternal benefit organizations, to refuse services to a same-sex wedding celebration or services to promote such a marriage through social or religious programs. The bill also stipulates that religiously affiliated fraternal benefit societies shall not be required to provide membership or benefits related to a marriage that violates the doctrine of the affiliated religion.
Rhode Island is the last remaining New England state that does not allow same-sex marriage. Currently nine states and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex couples to marry.
In September, a WPRI poll of 501 likely voters in Rhode Island found that 56 percent of Rhode Islanders support same-gender marriage, and only 36 percent oppose it.
On Tuesday, the entire Senate Republican caucus announced all of its members would support the bill. It is believed to be the first time an entire caucus has backed marriage equality in any state legislature nationwide.
For the tally of today’s vote, visit http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/SVotes/ http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/SVotes/, choose “4/24/2013” from the drop-down menu, and click “Submit.”
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903