The gallery of the Senate erupted in cheers when the chamber voted by a margin of two-to-one to legalize same sex marriages. The House overwhelmingly approved the same legislation in January. Senate bill sponsor Donna Nesselbush of Pawtucket who is openly gay called it an issue of historic importance.
"To each and every senator in this room," Nesselbush said, "the eyes of the nation are upon us and we are poised to become the 10th state in the nation to join the force for equality that is sweeping our great nation."
Senator Harold Metts of Providence voted ‘no’, saying the Bible dictates against homosexual marriage.
"The Bible is clear," Metts said. "God ordained marriage between one man and one woman."
The companion House and Senate bills which were approved mirror each other closely. Any differences will be worked out by legislative leaders in the coming days and the bill could go back to the House for final approval as early as next week. Governor Chafee has promised to sign it.
Rhode Island Reacts
Although she opposes same-sex marriage, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed praised Wednesday's Senate vote in support of the issue. Paiva Weed previously said she wouldn’t use her leadership post to try to block same-sex marriage.
Paiva Weed said she decided to let the debate play out in talks with Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey of Warwick, as he faced a tough re-election challenge from a gay woman last year.
“It was very important that the bill, bills have a full hearing in the committee, be fully debated, and have an opportunity for the members on the floor," Paiva Weed said. "I think it really is an example of the democratic process at its best.”
In the aftermath of a 26-to-12 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, Paiva Weed called herself a proud member of the Senate. She praised the debate and mutual respect shown by senators, and says she’s happy for supporters enjoying a long-sought victory.
Scores of gay and lesbian couples were among those celebrating after the state Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation.
David Burnett and Larry Bacon of Newport said they’ve been waiting to marry since 1976. Bacon said they plan to run down the aisle later this year.
“We’ve had a marriage in fact for 36 years and it’s time that it was recognized we feel, and formalized," Bacon said. "And it will be formalized, we hope, in October.”
Senators who voted in favor of the same-sex marriage bills hailed the outcome as historic. Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said she said was proud of the debate and the respect shown by senators to each other.
The House and Governor Lincoln Chafee are expected to make the same-sex marriage bills into law as soon as next week.