April 24, 2013

R.I. close to becoming 10th state to approve gay marriage

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Rhode Island state Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, center, reacts seconds after the state senate passed a same-sex marriage bill at the Statehouse, in Providence, R.I., Wednesday, April 24, 2013. Nesselbush was the main sponsor of the bill. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

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Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee testifies in support of same-sex marriage before the state's House Judiciary Committee in January.

2013 Associated Press File Photo

While ministers already cannot be forced to marry anyone, the exemption helped assuage some senators' concerns and ease the bill's passage this year.

Delaware could be the next state to approve gay marriage. Legislation legalizing same-sex marriage narrowly passed the Delaware House on Tuesday and now heads to that state's Senate for consideration.

Two years after gay marriage legislation foundered in Rhode Island, supporters regrouped and this year mounted an aggressive and coordinated campaign that included organized labor, religious leaders, business owners and leaders including Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

The bill's chances improved further when Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said she would allow the bill to move forward, despite her opposition to gay marriage. The Newport Democrat voted no on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the Senate's five Republicans announced they would support the measure. Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said the decision came down to core Republican principles.

"This is an issue of fairness, equality and civil rights," Algiere said. "Those are our values, and we stand by them."

House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, who is gay, had vowed to hold a vote on gay marriage early in the session. He said his chamber will hold a Tuesday hearing on the small changes made to the bill in the Senate. A final vote is tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

Rep. Frank Ferri, D-Warwick, who also is gay and lobbied for gay marriage before becoming a lawmaker himself, said it will be a vote to savor.

"After all these years, all these setbacks, all the hearings, we kept at it and we got closer and closer each year," he said. "I'm pumped. I'm excited. I'm thrilled. It's almost surreal."

Gay marriage is legal in nine states and Washington, D.C.

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