The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on a 7 – 4 vote. A bill putting the issue up for referendum was defeated by a 6 – 5 vote.
The vote was greeted with jubilation by same sex marriage supporters gathered in a Statehouse hearing room. Supporters say they’re hopeful the committee vote signals full Senate approval. The bill will go to a full Senate vote Wednesday.
Reaction to the Vote
Democratic Senator Donna Nesselbush of Pawtucket, an openly gay woman who sponsored one of the successful bills, was elated. “It’s a fabulous day, it’s a historic day for all Rhode Islanders,” said Nesselbush. “We finally are on the right side of history. We’ve done the right thing. We’ve joined the rest of New England and I couldn’t be happier.”
In a statement, the Rhode Island Catholic Conference said it’s disappointed the Senate is moving to redefine marriage without giving voters a chance to weigh in. The group praised the inclusion of religious exemptions, but criticized the absence of exemptions for individuals and small businesses.
Joining Nesselbush in voting for her bill were Senators Stephen Archambault, Billy Conley, Dawson Hodgson, Lou Raptakis, Paul Jabour and Erin Lynch. The no votes came from Frank Lombardi, Harold Metts, Chairman Michael McCaffrey, and voting in his ex officio capacity, Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio.
In a noteworthy development, all five Republicans among the 38 senators in the Senate offered their unified support for same-sex marriage earlier in the day. They say they are the first partisan caucus of legislators in any state to do that.
Intense Lobbying of State Senators
Members of the state senate have been flooded with calls from both supporters and opponents. Senator Conley, a democrat from East Providence, sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has been lobbied heavily in the months leading up to this vote. Hundreds of emails, texts and letters have been pouring into his work and legislative office every day. And the first-term senator says he appreciates the feedback.
“It’s been an absolutely wonderful learning experience. I’ve learned a lot about the issue from personal stories,” said Conley. “It’s also been wonderful to be a part of the legislative process. I believe it’s been democracy at its best.”
Advocates have been trying to legalize same sex marriage in Rhode Island since 1997, when the first such bill in the state was sponsored by Representatives Pisaturo, Fox, Barone, Ajello, Williams and Cicilline.
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