Rhode Island

Rhode Island Becomes 10th State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage

On May 2, 2013, Rhode Island became the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law in a ceremony on the steps of the Statehouse in Providence. Hundreds of people showed up to take part in the celebration.

Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Movement

Although supporters of same-sex marriage have been attempting to legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island since 1997, they had been unable to gain momentum until recent years. Because Rhode Island is a heavily Roman Catholic state, the state has faced intense opposition to gay marriage. Until January 2013, no measure had been voted out of committee.Gay marriage supporters had little hope of legalizing gay marriage from 2003 through 2011, when the socially conservative Republican Donald Carcieri served as the governor of Rhode Island. However, the tides have been changing dramatically over the last decade as support for gay marriage increased. Gordon D. Fox was first elected to the state legislature in 1992. He came out publicly in 2004. In 2010, Fox became the first openly gay Speaker of the House in the United States.

The movement toward legalizing gay marriage was buffered by lobbying efforts that were supported by labor leaders, clergy and political leaders. In 2008, members of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) began the “Six by Twelve” campaign with the goal of legalizing gay marriage throughout New England by 2012.

Governor Chafee had advocated for the expansion of marriage rights before he took office in 2011. That year, state lawmakers passed a law creating civil unions for same-sex couples. This action was unpopular for both advocates and opponents of same-sex marriage. Because gay marriage was already legal in neighboring states, few citizens took advantage of the civil union laws.

Passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Law

In January, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a same-sex marriage measure by a margin of 51 to 19. In April, the Senate approved a modified version that expanded religious protections to specify that no religious leader is required to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. The state’s House of Representatives approved this version of the bill by a margin of 56-15. Governor Chafee signed the bill into law on May 2, 2013. The law will take effect on August 1. With the passage of this law, Rhode Island became the sixth and final New England state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the head of the Diocese of Providence, had become a leading voice against gay marriage in Rhode Island. He has denounced gay marriage as immoral, claiming that the change in Rhode Island’s existing marriage law was unnecessary. Tobin has cautioned Rhode Island Catholics to “examine their consciences” before supporting or attending gay weddings.

Governor Chafee has recognized the issue of marriage equality as a major generational shift. He has advocated for gay marriage as a way to boost the state economy, claiming that marriage equality will make Rhode Island a more welcoming place for business owners, entrepreneurs and members of the younger generation.