Rhode Island marriage bill clears final hurdle with all Republicans

Donna Nesselbush

After a moving speech by a senator who described herself as a devout Catholic and said she would support marriage equality, the Rhode Island Senate Wednesday afternoon (April 24) voted 26 to 12 to approve a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state. The Senate bill must now  go to the House, which passed a different version of a marriage equality bill in January on a strong 51 to 19 vote. The bill is expected to clear that hurdle easily next week and the governor has already indicated he will sign it. When that happens, Rhode Island will become the tenth state in the nation, plus the District of Columbia, to begin treating same-sex couples the same as male-female couples in marriage licensing and recognition.

The Rhode Island Senate vote followed by one day a vote in the Delaware House to pass a marriage equality bill, 23 to 18. And it followed exactly one week after the New Zealand legislature passed marriage equality legislation on April 17.

Uruguay’s legislature passed a marriage equality law April 10. And the French National Assembly, following the lead of its Senate, approved similar legislation April 23, meaning the measure there needs to clear only one pre-enactment judicial review before French President François Hollande can sign it into law.

In Rhode Island, openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox told the Providence Journal he believes the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by openly lesbian Senator Donna Nusselbush, would pass the House and be on the governor’s desk next week.

Before passing the marriage law, the Senate also rejected an attempt to put the issue before voters, by a 28 to 10 vote.

In contrast to the votes in many state legislative bodies, the vote in Rhode Island had most Republicans in support of the measure. Republican Senator Dawson Hodgson said the Republican caucus was “unanimous” in its support of the bill. In fact, all five of the Senate’s Republicans voted for the bill; and a third of the Democrats voted no, including Senate President Teresa Weed. Weed won considerable praise from supporters of the bill, however, for allowing the measure to proceed to the floor for consideration.

Of the Senate’s 31 Democrats, 21 voted for the bill, 10 against. One of the no votes was from Senator Howard Metts (D-Providence) who read numerous Biblical passages, promising that approval of marriage bill would result in “sin and death.”

The one independent senator voted no.


Meanwhile, the Illinois House is expected any day now to take up a marriage equality bill passed in the Senate.

In Nevada this week, state senators were reportedly surprised when one of their own –state Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D-North Las Vegas)—came out to them on the floor of the Senate as the chamber was debating a bill to repeal the state’s current ban on marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

The 21-member Nevada senate voted 12 to 9 Monday night (April 22) to approve a measure to amend the state constitution to remove language that currently bans recognition of marriages for same-sex couples. Because it is a state constitutional amendment, the measure must still pass the Assembly and then pass both the Senate and Assembly in 2015 and be approved by voters in 2016.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, the vote came after about an hour of debate during which time Atkinson spoke of his father’s interracial marriage and then told colleagues, “I’m black. I’m gay.”

The Sun said the senate rejected an effort to add language that would have not only removed the ban but required recognition of same-sex unions.

The legislative actions in the U.S. followed news of a critical vote in France, approving marriage equality this week, and a final approval for marriage equality by the New Zealand legislature April 17.

The New Zealand law does not require that same-sex couples reside in the country before obtaining a marriage license and, thus, is expected to attract many same-sex couples from Australia. Uruguay’s legislature passed a marriage equality law April 10.

The approval of marriage equality in France elicited loud and raucous protests from opponents of allowing same-sex couples to marry. Some news reports, including the New York Times, estimated protesters as numbering “hundreds of thousands.” But despite those protests, 53 percent of the French Senate passed the marriage equality legislation April 12, and its National Assembly did so on April 23 with the support of almost 60 percent of the Assembly’s members.

The number of countries providing marriage equality for same-sex couples now stands at 13, with eight of those moving to marriage equality in the last five years. The 13 are: the Netherlands (in 2001), Belgium (2003), Spain and Canada (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway and Sweden (2009), Argentina, Iceland, and Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), and New Zealand  and Uruguay (2013).

In addition to France, Australia may soon be taking up marriage equality, thanks in large part to its passage in neighboring New Zealand. The law in New Zealand does not require that same-sex couples reside in the country before obtaining a marriage license and, thus, many expect that a large number of same-sex couples from Australia with make the three-hour flight to secure legal recognition of their relationships. The national group Australian Marriage Equality says it plans to make same-sex marriage “a central issue” in the country’s elections this year. Prime Minister Julia Gillard told an ABC radio interviewer April 24 that she is opposed to same-sex marriage but is “not seeking to impose my views on anybody.”

6 Responses to Rhode Island marriage bill clears final hurdle with all Republicans

  1. John K. says:

    …..Paiva-Weed is a democrat…

  2. Chuck Gage says:

    Lisa – Just a clarification – I believe when RI’s governor signs SSM into law, RI will become the 10th State plus DC where SSM is legal. I believe in the article you mentioned 9.

    That’s 5 in New England, plus New York, Maryland, Washington State, and Iowa. That’s nine, not including DC. Several more on the horizon.

    As a sidebar, I keep an eye on NOM’s postings, as well. The usual doom & gloom and end of the world predictions as a result of France and Rhode Island legalizing SSM. What I have yet to hear from NOM is one (all I need is one) valid legal argument against SSM. They yammer on endlessly about religion and tradition and so on, sounding exactly like the KKK back in the days when the ban against inter-racial marriage was being considered to be lifted. Same arguments, different subject. But, still not one legal argument that would stand up in court. I guess because there is not one.

    Of course, NOM also believes the rights of a minority should be put to the vote of the majority. History shows how well that worked with women’s right to vote, civil rights for blacks, etc.

    They also seem to have this bizarre belief that banning SSM will somehow prevent SS families with children from being formed! Whether or not SSM becomes the law of the land with not increase or decrease the number of SS families that form. Instead, as long as NOM holds onto this attitude, all it is doing is prevent children in SS families, now and in the future, from having access to same rights as the children with straight, married parents. But, of course, they have to cling to that bible and live in the 12th century. Just bizarre.

    The best I can figure is that Brian Brown knows this issue is a dead-duck and he’s padding-out his 401(k) while he can. There is always money in controversy and he’s there to cash in.

  3. Paolo Scarpat says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Rhode Island will become the tenth state in the U.S. where same-sex marriage is legally recognized: it is already recognized in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington, as well as in the District of Columbia and three Native American tribes.

  4. Lisa Keen says:

    Thank you so much for this correction!

  5. Lisa Keen says:

    Thanks for the important correction!

  6. Lisa Keen says:

    You are right!

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