The Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday (23 January) unanimously voted to send legislation to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry to the full House of Representatives.
The 11-0 vote is the first legislative hurdle in making Rhode Island the tenth state in the US to legalize same-sex marriage.
Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign director Ray Sullivan called the vote 'historic' and 'affirmative.'
'After hearing testimony from every day Rhode Islanders – gay and straight, friends, family, and community leaders – the committee resoundingly endorsed extending the unique protections and recognition of marriage to all loving, committed couples,' Sullivan told Washington Blade. 'This historic, affirmative vote moves us one step closer to finally making the Ocean State a place where all families are valued, respected and treated equally.'
The vote before the full house could take place as early as Thursday (24 January) and it is expected to pass. But there is less confidence about the legislation's chances for passage in the state senate.
But Governor Lincoln Chafee has said it is past time for his state to make gay marriage legal and said in a statement that he is pleased with the vote. Rhode Island is the only New England state where gay marriage is not yet legal.
'It is a civil rights issue, it is an issue of basic fairness, and it is an economic development issue,' Chafee said as he listed reasons why passage is good for the state. 'We are at an economic disadvantage with our neighboring states when we do not ‘have the welcome mat out’ for all those who want to work here and contribute to our economy. Rhode Island already lags behind all of our New England neighbors on this issue; we should swiftly remedy that for the good of our economy and the rights of our citizens.
'With this afternoon’s vote, we are one step closer to the day when gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders can enjoy the same fundamental rights, benefits, and privileges as all other citizens of our state,' he added. 'It is my hope that that day will come soon. I urge the leaders of the House and Senate to call the roll, and I will be proud to sign this important legislation when it reaches my desk.'