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US state on way to allowing gay marriage

25 April 2013, 12:06

Providence — Rhode Island senators put their state on the path on Wednesday to becoming the 10th state to allow same-sex couples to marry, passing legislation by a comfortable 26-12 margin after nearly two decades of attempts to legalise gay marriage.

The bill passed the House in January and now returns there for a largely procedural vote, likely next week, before going to Governor Lincoln Chafee, who supports the legislation.

Hundreds of gay marriage supporters erupted into cheers and applause — and many cried — outside the Senate chamber following the vote.

"I think it's actually going to happen," said Michael Sherman, aged 45, a gay man from Providence who came to the Statehouse for the historic vote. "When you tell someone they can't do something because they're different from you, people see that as just wrong. It shouldn't have taken this long."

While the other five New England states already allow gay marriage, heavily Catholic Rhode Island has been a hold-out. Supporters this year mounted an aggressive and co-ordinated campaign that included organised labour, religious leaders, business owners and leaders including Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

20 years in the making

The bill's chances improved when Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she would allow the bill to move forward, despite her opposition to gay marriage. Earlier this week, the Senate's five Republicans announced they would all support the measure.

The first gay marriages in Rhode Island could take place on 1 August, when the legislation would take effect. Civil unions would no longer be available to same-sex couples as of that date, though the state would continue to recognise existing civil unions. Lawmakers approved civil unions two years ago, though few couples have sought them.

Gay marriage legislation has been introduced in Rhode Island's General Assembly for nearly 20 years only to languish on the legislative agenda without a vote. Last fall, House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, vowed to hold a vote early in the session, a move that focused the attention of supporters on the Senate.

Fox's chamber will now get the final say on the legislation, when the House is expected to sign off on minor changes the Senate made to the bill. A hearing on the bill is expected on Tuesday, ahead of the House vote next Thursday.

- AP

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