PROVIDENCE — The wait is over for gay and lesbian couples in Rhode Island. The House of Representatives’ 56-15 vote last night to approve same-sex marriage brought to the Statehouse steps Governor Lincoln Chafee, who immediately signed the bill into law and made Rhode Island the tenth state in the country to allow same sex couples to marry.
The bill sponsored by by Senator Donna Nesselbush (District 15 — Pawtucket) will allow same-sex couples to legally marry come August 1.
After the approval, supporters of the 16-year fight, applauded and numerous people began singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
At 5:45, hundreds of people filled the South Steps of the Statehouse to listen to overjoyed speeches by Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox, Chafee, and Nesselbush, among others.
“Today we are making history,” announced the governor. “We are living up to the ideals of our founders, who believed so deeply in the words etched in the State House: ‘to hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments,’” he told the crowd.
Many Representatives, prior to yesterday’s vote, had a feeling the bill would be approved by a large margin.
Representative Patricia Serpa (District 27 — West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) explained that she thought that since the bill was amended, “the people who voted it down in January will approve it.”
This bill differs from others introduced because it contains wording that would protect religious groups from having to go against their own beliefs; basically, the churches now reserve the right to deny the ceremony to gay and lesbian couples if they feel the union goes against their church beliefs.
Because of this, numerous members of the House, including local Representatives, felt more comfortable voting for this bill than the previous one introduced in January.
Representative Jared Nunes (District 25 — Coventry, West Warwick) explained that even though he voted yes for the first bill, he lobbied that it require more religious protection, “and this bill has gotten closer to what it should be; it’s only gotten better,” he praised.
Republican Representative Patricia Morgan (District 26 — Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) also explained that she voted no in January to the bill because she was concerned about the religious liberties of the churches.
“But the Senate bill corrected that to keep the churches safe if they object so I decided to vote yes because that impediment was taken away,” she said.
Representative Lisa Tomasso (District 29 — Coventry, West Greenwich) also voted to approve the bill, explaining that she teaches her children to consider their actions and the actions of those before them and to be thankful.
“I thank the Lord for all the people who came before me to ensure that I could rise today on this floor to press the green button in support for marriage equality,” she added.
Now that Rhode Island has joined the rest of New England in allowing same-sex marriage, some people believe a positive impact will be seen.
According to a study released by UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute this month, which is an update of its 2011 study, states that allowing same-sex marriage in the state would bring in $7 million in revenue in the first three years.
This revenue would be implemented into the tourism and wedding industries in Rhode Island, as same-sex couples flock to the state to express their love.
On top of that, the study states that same-sex couples coming to Rhode Island to marry will most likely bring guests to their weddings, increasing other aspects of the economy such as local businesses like bars and restaurants and shopping.
Representative Serpa, who serves Chair of the House Small Business Committee, explained that various businessman are excited about the approval of the bill because they believe it will bring more people to the state.
“Business owners are trying to attract same-sex couples into the state; which in turn will boost the economy,” she added. “It has wide support here in the business community.”
Representative Nunes took another angle, however, saying one of the biggest benefits the approval of the bill has is to the people themselves.
“It’s more a matter of fundamental fairness to people that live in the state,” he said. “It impacts them and their relationships; that will be the biggest benefit to the people it directly affects.”