Rhode Island moved another step closer to marriage equality Thursday as the House of Representatives voted 51 to 19 today to allow same-sex couples to marry in the state, the Legislature announced in a release.
Rep. Arthur Handy, who has introduced the bill for each of the last 11 years, said the proposal is about justice and equity for same-sex couples.
“Obviously, this issue is about fairness and allowing all Rhode Islanders to have equal access to the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, but marriage is about so much more than legal protections," Handy said in a release. "My wife and I have been married since 1997, and as we’ve worked together to raise our son, the value of having a committed, strong family has become more apparent to us over time. All Rhode Islanders deserve to enjoy that security and support, and deserve to have their family recognized as equal to others.
"It feels good to see how far we’ve come in Rhode Island toward valuing all families, and I know we are close to the day when marriage equality becomes law here,” the Cranston representative added.
Forty-two of the 75 House members sponsored the bill, and the House Judiciary Committee approved it unanimously. The Seante is the final hurdle as Gov. Lincoln Chafee has pledged to sign it if the Senate approves it as well, the State House release states.
The bill 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, effective immediately upon adoption of the bill.
It contains a provision that allows couples who entered into civil unions in Rhode Island to convert those unions to marriages, and automatically converts all remaining civil unions that have not been dissolved by Jan. 1, 2014, into marriages on that date.
The bill reiterates the right of religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith.
Rhode Island is the only 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.