The Rhode Island House of Representatives easily passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage Thursday. The Ocean State is the only state in New England where gay marriage is not legal.
The bill, which would allow anyone to marry “any eligible person regardless of gender,” passed by a 51-9 vote after an hour and a half of deliberation. Now the bill will head to the Senate, but it may encounter some challenges there. Teresa Paiva-Weed, the Senate president, is opposed to gay marriage. However, Paiva-Weed said she would allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the bill.
House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay, supported same-sex marriage legislation when it was first introduced almost 26 years ago. Fox did, however, acknowledge that, compared to other states in New England, Rhode Island is more conservative.
“It’s a combination of the quirkiness of our little state, the really entrenched opposition of our Catholic Church,” Fox said. According to the Stamford Advocate, Fox had dropped gay marriage legislation in 2011 because he concluded that the bill would not pass the Senate. Instead of approving gay marriage, legislators passed civil unions for same-sex couples. Only 68 couples have obtained civil union licenses.
Still, others believe that there are more pressing matters to worry about than gay marriage. Christopher Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, said, “Our economy remains stagnant at best, in the tank at worst. We’re tied for the worst unemployment rate in the nation. There’s going to be a lot of things on the agenda between now and whenever the Senate decides to take this up.”
Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. In addition to the New England states, New York, Iowa, Washington, and Maryland allow gay marriage. Rhode Island recognizes out-of-state marriages.