The Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill last night to legalize same-sex marriage — the first time a branch of the General Assembly has approved such a measure — but the bill’s fate remains to be determined.
The bill passed 51-19 — with 14 Democrats joining five Republicans in the House to vote against the bill — and will now have to be passed by the Rhode Island Senate and then signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 before becoming law. One Republican, House minority leader Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, voted with 50 Democrats in favor of the bill, and the five remaining Democrats missed the vote.
The Senate poses a major challenge for the bill, in part because Senate president Teresa Paiva-Weed, D-Newport and Jamestown, personally opposes same-sex marriage and has worked against it in the past. But Weed has promised not to block the Senate Judicial Committee from voting on the bill, opening a possible path for the bill to reach the Senate floor — where the vote is expected to be close.
If the Senate passes the bill, Chafee — who has long expressed his desire to see Rhode Island join every other state in New England and legalize same-sex marriage — has said he will sign it.
Rep. Arthur Corvese, D–North Providence, gave an impassioned appeal against the measure, warning that it would be an “irrevocable societal game changer” and would mean a “wholesale redefinition” of the institution of marriage — “not an extension.”
“For those of you who made pandering promises to support this bill,” he asked, “do you realize the enormity of that promise?”
But many representatives spoke in favor of the bill, too. “I believe that this will be a game changer,” said Rep. John Edwards, D-Tiverton and Portsmouth, “but it will be a game changer that will make things better in our state.”
If the bill becomes law, then Rhode Island will become the 10th state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage and the fifth state to have done so through legislation.
Sustained applause swept through the chamber when the vote was announced. Though a group protesting the measure was standing in the State House lobby when the debate began, it was gone by the time the bill’s supporters began to shuffle excitedly out.
Taylor Daily ’13 — one of several students who testified about same-sex marriage before the House in 2010 before the legislature ultimately approved civil unions — was on hand last night to see the job finished. “I wanted to be here to see all that work come to fruition,” he said.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Seth Magaziner ’06, a board member of Marriage Equality Rhode Island. “The job’s not done, but it’s a good day.”
Magaziner said that the next step will be lobbying the Senate, as well as convincing Rhode Island citizens to contact their senators and express support for the measure.
As the supporters filed out of the State House, a man wearing a “Rhode Islanders United For Marriage” called out from the top of the steps to two people walking away.
“Are you coming to Devilles?” he asked, inviting them to the lesbian-owned bar where the victory party was being held.
“We have a strategy meeting,” one of them yelled back. “We don’t have time to party.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all six Republicans in the House voted against the bill. In fact, one Republican, House minority leader Rep. Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, voted with 50 Democrats in favor of the bill. A graphic representing the representatives’ party affiliation and vote on the bill reflected this inaccuracy and was removed from the article until it could be updated. The Herald regrets the errors.