Rhode Island became the 10th state to legalize gay marriage Thursday, capping a campaign to bring same-sex nuptials to all of New England.
The Democrat-led Rhode Island House of Representatives passed the marriage-equality bill, 56-15.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent who campaigned on his desire to sign a gay-marriage law, fulfilled that promise on the statehouse steps shortly after it passed.
“Americans from all walks of life realize that this is the right thing to do,” Mr. Chafee said in an opinion article in The New York Times Thursday. Once “the people have spoken, politics should do its part to make the change efficient and constructive,” he wrote.
The law takes effect Aug. 1.
Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, announced the historic vote as the gallery and floor applauded and then sang the first verse of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
The bill, which removes gender in state marriage law, recognizes couples “for their love” and “their commitment to each other,” and contains adequate protections for religiously associated institutions, said Rep. Edith Ajello.
Rep. Arthur J. Corvese, one of the Democrats who voted against the bill, warned his colleagues that it was the beginning of “unforeseen and unforeseeable” consequences for children and society. “Natural law” will prevail in the end, he added.
“I don’t think we or I have the authority to redefine marriage,” added Rep. Samuel A. Azzinaro, another Democrat who opposed the bill.
But Democrat Rep. Deb Ruggiero said that after the bill is passed, “nothing will change” for most people while “it will be a different world” for gays and lesbians.
The Rhode Island Senate assured passage of the law April 24 when it approved it, 26-12.
Activists with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) started the “Six by Twelve” campaign, to enact gay marriage throughout New England by 2012, in late 2008. GLAD won the first gay-marriage court case in 2003, paving the way for Massachusetts to became the first state to perform legal gay marriages in 2004.
A gay marriage bill is also making headway in Delaware: the state’s House of Representatives approved the legislation on April 23 by a 23-18 vote, and on Wednesday, a state Senate committee passed it, 4-2.
A full Senate vote is expected on Tuesday. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill, and state Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, supports the bill. “Everyone is equal under the law, and all Delawareans should be free to marry the person they love,” Mr. Biden said when the bill passed the Delaware House.
However, 75 pastors of many denominations gathered at the Delaware statehouse and asked lawmakers not to change the marriage law. “Marriage is based on the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need and mother and a father,” they said, according to the Delaware Family Policy Council and media reports.
“Marriage can be colorblind but not gender blind,” said Maribel Zaragoza of Marantha Christian Church in Dover. Marriage should not be redefined “from an institution centered on the needs of children to an institution focused on the desire of adults,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, a gay-marriage bill is still awaiting a final vote in the state House of Representatives.
Illinois state officials and gay-rights groups strongly support the bill, but Catholics, traditional-values groups and the African American Clergy Coalition are opposed.
Some 20 black members in the Illinois House are viewed as swing votes, and are being heavily lobbied, according to media reports.
The spring legislative session ends May 31.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.