Rhode Island took one step closer to the legalization of same-sex marriage on Tuesday following Judiciary Committee passage of a bill that would allow gay couples to marry in the state.
With little debate, the 10-member Senate committee, which includes Sen. Lou Raptakis of Coventry, voted 7-4 to pass the amended Senate Bill 38 (S38), sponsored by Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket). The bill defines marriage as "the legally recognized union" of two people, regardless of gender.
The seven Committee members who voted in favor of the bill include Sens. Stephen Archambault, William Conley, Dawson Hodgson, Paul Jabour, Erin Lynch, Nesselbush and Raptakis. Committee Chairman Mike McCaffrey, Sens. Frank Lombardi and Harold Metts, and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, who used his optional right to vote ex officio, cast votes against.
The Judiciary Committee's decision will now send the bill to the Senate floor for a vote by all 38 senators. The vote could take place as soon as Wednesday, according to Senate spokesman Greg Pare.
“This is an incredible and historic step forward in the campaign to ensure all loving, committed couples in Rhode Island have the freedom to marry,” said Ray Sullivan, campaign director of Rhode Islanders United for Marriage. “We are pleased and proud that the members of the Judiciary Committee were so receptive to the thousands of their constituents who reached out and urged them to vote yes on Sen. Nesselbush’s bill. We will continue to connect the supermajority of Rhode Islanders who support marriage equality with their senators before a floor vote, and believe we have the momentum to achieve victory on this critical issue.”
The committee also voted 6-5 to reject Sen. Frank Ciccone's bill, which would order a voter referendum on the issue in 2014, in addition to several exemptions deemed "discriminatory" by many. (On March 19, , citing feedback from their constituents as the reasoning behind the decision.)
“Members of the committee heard from their constituents in strong opposition to putting fundamental rights on the ballot, and we thank them for defeating this divisive and harmful referendum bill," said Sullivan.
If S38 is approved by the full Senate, it will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee next week. If approved there, as well as by the full House, the final stop for the Senate version of the bill would be the office of Gov. Lincoln Chafee, possibly by the end of next week, according to House officials.
“I am elated that Senate Bill 28 has been voted out of committee, headed for a full debate and vote on the Senate floor," said Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts. "Our family members and friends, neighbors and co-workers deserve to be treated fairly and protected equally under the law, and this vote marks the beginning of the final steps in our journey as a state toward extending true marriage equality to all Rhode Islanders."