PROVIDENCE — History was made Wednesday afternoon as members of the State Senate voted to approve 26-12 a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state of Rhode Island.
Because of the approval by the senate, the bill will now be heard by the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday. If approved, it will be passed along for a full floor vote on Thursday, before landing on Governor Lincoln Chafee’s desk to be signed into law. Chafee has already said that if the legislation reaches his desk, he will sign it into law.
The bill sponsored by Senator Donna Nesselbush (District 15, Pawtucket) differs from various other bills introduced because it contains wording that would protect religious groups from having to perform ceremonies against their own beliefs.
Senator James Sheehan (District 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown), who voted yes on the bill, said he agrees with the way it addresses religious institutions as well.
“While the state might recognize same-gender marriages, the state is still constitutionally bound to respect the religious traditions of the church and I think this legislation does just that,” he said.
After a brief meeting, compared to the 12-hour March 21 meeting, the vote was taken and supporters of the bill erupted in applause; hugs and praises were given to Nesselbush.
Many people, however, gathered outside the chambers in the State House Rotunda holding signs stating their opposition to the same-sex marriage bill. Their singing and chanting could be heard as senators discussed their individual views on the bill before a vote was taken at 5:45.
Senator Leonidas Raptakis (District 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich), voted for the bill and explained that he has been approached by numerous people from both sides of the debate.
“I’ve come to understand the importance of marriage from a civil definition,” he added. “This bill does not infringe on the rights of my church to continue practicing the sacrament of marriage the way we have understood it for centuries.”
Senator Dawson Hodgson (District 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett), also voted yes for the bill and said he supported the bill “on the principles of freedom, dignity and the respect for the rule of law.”
Hodgson, along with Senator Nicholas Kettle (District 21, Coventry, Foster, Scituate, West Greenwich), is a member of the Republican Caucus, whose five members voted yes for the bill.
“Freedom is a powerful thing, citizens of the U.S. are free to live their lives as they see fit as long as they don’t interfere with the rights of others,” he added. “Allowing gays and lesbian citizens the equal protection of our marriage laws will not affect our own marriages.”
Senator Sheehan explained that the country has gone through various struggles towards equality, including women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement for African-American citizens.
He said that Thomas Jefferson explained it best when he said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Nesselbush was more than pleased with the outcome of the vote and said she was shocked by the amount of yeas by the senate.
“I’m proud of my colleagues,” she said. “Today is truly a historic day and Rhode Island is joining the force that is sweeping the nation.”