The full House is expected to debate and vote on same-sex marriage Thursday. Though gay marriage bills have been introduced for years, it will be the first time either chamber of the General Assembly will vote on the matter.
The bill was endorsed Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee. The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Providence), called it “truly a historic moment.”
“Many of us have been waiting for this for a number of years,” Ajello said.
“After hearing testimony from everyday Rhode Islanders – gay and straight, friends, family, and community leaders – the committee resoundingly endorsed extending the unique protections and recognition of marriage to all loving, committed couples,” said Ray Sullivan, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign director.
“This historic, affirmative vote moves us one step closer to finally making the Ocean State a place where all families are valued, respected and treated equally,” he said.
The legislation is expected to pass the House but its prospects in the Senate are far more difficult to forecast. That’s where opponents to gay marriage are hoping to defeat the bill.
Article continues below“The Senate is still up for grabs,” said Christopher Plante, director of the state chapter of the National Institute for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage.
Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is a gay marriage opponent and said last week she couldn’t support the legislation as written. But she has said she will allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to review and vote on the bill if it passes the House.
House Speaker Gordon Fox had called for a vote in his chamber on gay marriage by the end of January. Fox, who is gay, dropped similar legislation two years ago after it became apparent the legislation wouldn’t pass the Senate. Lawmakers instead approved civil unions for same-sex couples.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a gay marriage supporter, hailed Tuesday’s committee vote as “another significant step forward toward marriage equality.”
“We are one step closer to the day when gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders can enjoy the same fundamental rights, benefits, and privileges as all other citizens of our state,” he said in a statement.
Same-sex marriage legislation has been introduced in Rhode Island for years, but has never made it a vote in either legislative chamber.
In 2001, then-State Rep. David Cicilline moved passage in the House Judiciary Committee on a marriage equality bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Pisaturo. He was the only affirmative vote, and the legislation was defeated.
Two years ago, lawmakers approved civil unions for same-sex couples after it again became apparent that a marriage equality bill would not pass the Senate. But in the first year, only 68 couples had entered into a civil union.
Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage. Rhode Island is the only New England state without marriage equality.