Just minutes ago, the RI General Assembly voted 56 to 15, in favor of same-sex marriage. Governor Chafee is slated to sign the bill, officially enacting the legislation, in just a few moments.
Once signed, there will be 10 states nationwide, including all six New England states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow same-sex couples to marry. House Speaker Gordon D. Fox remarked "This is a great day in Rhode Island, not just for the many Rhode Island families who will now get the recognition and equality that they so richly deserve, and not only for the thousands who have been fighting for decades for the dignity and rights of all citizens. It is also a wonderful day for the generations of future Rhode Islanders who may never know a time when some people didn't have all the same rights as others, and who hopefully will grow up wondering how on earth that ever could have been the law."
The legislation, which takes 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 also 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.
However, the bill also contain provisions protecting freedom of religion, reiterating the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith. It specifies 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. It also stipulates that religious organizations shall not be required to provide services to a same-sex wedding celebration and that religiously affiliated fraternal benefit societies will not be required to promote such a marriage through social or religious programs or to provide membership or benefits related to a marriage that violates the doctrine of the affiliated religion.
The bills passage was met with jubilant celebration, with a with advocates in the balcony proudly singing "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," which was met with a standing ovation, even by op posers of the bill.