The 62-11 vote came after a last minute attempt to revive gay marriage legislation failed — the civil unions bill was introduced just two weeks ago as a compromise after House leaders said the gay marriage bill did not have the votes to pass this year.
The civil-unions bill — opposed by hundreds who came out to testify last week and thousands, according to one lawmaker’s count, who signed petitions — did indeed pass in the House, with a vote that cut across party lines, even as it left lawmakers at odds over where the issue goes from here and what people in Rhode Island really want.
Supporters called the vote a historic victory, one that provides important rights to same-sex couples despite falling short of full marriage equality.
Prior to the vote, Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston), sought to revamp the bill so that it would legalize same-sex marriage and provide additional protections for clergy and religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage. But the effort failed because it violated House rules that prohibit a floor amendment from changing an entire bill.
Rep. Peter J. Petrarca (D-Lincoln), the bill’s sponsor in the House, called the vote “a great result,” one that could lead to more debate next year on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for the LGBT advocacy group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, said civil unions will never be a substitute for true marriage.
The measure now heads to the Senate, where legislators predict broad support for civil unions. Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), said he supports gay marriage but will sign a civil unions bill if passed in the Senate.