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Rhode Island legalizes same-sex marriage

Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 signed the historic legislation at a State House ceremony yesterday

On the steps of the Rhode Island State House, Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P '14 signed historic legislation making Rhode Island the 10th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage Thursday.

The signing ceremony immediately followed a vote in the House of Representatives supporting the legislation, which passed in the Senate April 24. Though the House passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in January, the Senate added protections to allow religious officials who oppose same-sex marriage to decline to officiate them, requiring the House to vote again to approve the changes.

The signing ceremony opened with a performance by the Providence Gay Men's Chorus. Master of Ceremonies Stephen Hourihan opened the ceremony, saying today of all days, he was especially proud to be an openly gay man.

"I'm proud of the way Rhode Islanders came together," he said. Countless people "worked tirelessly to pass this legislation," he added.

Chafee began his speech with a quote from his January 2011 inaugural address.

"When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honor our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality," he said. "I am proud and honored to make the Marriage Equality Act the law of the land.” Calling the history of same-sex marriage legislation an arduous battle, Chafee said Rhode Island’s LGBTQ community and allies had long awaited the legalization of same-sex marriage.

"Now, you are free to marry the person you love," he said. "We couldn't be here today without the Rhode Islanders who fought for freedom.”

"Today, looking at your faces, I love Rhode Island even more," said Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, who said he began fighting for marriage equality when the first same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the General Assembly 16 years ago.

When Chafee showed support for same-sex marriage in his inaugural address two years ago, Fox said "for once, (he) wasn't alone on this issue. (He) had a true friend."

The passage of the legislation represents a historic moment that will change the way marriage is perceived in the state, Fox said.

"We're not going to be talking about same-sex marriage anymore. We're going to be talking about marriage,” he added. "This is your victory. This is our victory. We did it together.”

"Today your tenacity will be rewarded," said Sen. Donna Nesselbush '84, who sponsored the original legislation.

The legislation gradually gained support of legislators and organizations, Nesselbush said. “We changed the hearts and minds on this issue one at a time."

"Every generation has a chance to further the cause for equality," she said, and Rhode Island has now taken that chance.

"Today we send a message of tolerance and equality to all Americans,” said advocate Christopher Utter, who said he has been in a committed relationship with his partner for nearly 20 years.

Julia Harvey ’14, who was born and raised in Rhode Island, said she testified in support of same-sex marriage at 4 a.m. during a marathon 12-hour hearing of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Harvey said she is proud she has the right to “marry the person (she) loves in her own state.”


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