For the first time ever, a committee of the Rhode Island legislature has voted to send a marriage equality bill to the floor. The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee voted 11-0 to approve the long-awaited legislation. "Representative Arthur Handy's bill, H 5015, could be voted on by the full House as early as Thursday," reports the Providence Journal.
The bill is expected to pass the House but its fate in the Senate remains uncertain. Democratic Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has steadfastly opposed mariage equality but supports civil unions.
Governor Lincoln Chafee testified in support of the marriage bill. The governor released a statement which includes:
As I noted in my State of the State Address last week, there are a number of reasons why we should bring marriage equality to Rhode Island this year. It is a civil rights issue, it is an issue of basic fairness, and it is an economic development issue. We are at an economic disadvantage with our neighboring states when we do not ‘have the welcome mat out’ for all those who want to work here and contribute to our economy. Rhode Island already lags behind all of our New England neighbors on this issue; we should swiftly remedy that for the good of our economy and the rights of our citizens.
With this afternoon’s vote, 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. It is my hope that that day will come soon. I urge the leaders of the House and Senate to call the roll, and I will be proud to sign this important legislation when it reaches my desk.
Rhode Island is the only state in New England that does not mandate marriage equality.
The Rhode Island House approved a compromise civil unions bill in May 2011. The bill was introduced after Speaker Gordon Fox—who became Rhode Island's first Black and first openly gay House speaker in February 2010—said a marriage equality bill did not have the votes to pass. Fox's decision was criticized by some LGBT activists.