Rhode Island Gay Marriage: Major Vote Set For Thursday

Unless something unexpected happens, Rhode Island will become the 10th state (and the last one in New England) to recognize same-sex marriages. The state Senate is expected to give its final approval Thursday, after the bill had to return to the House for some minor changes.

This is the logical conclusion to the Ocean State's progression to recognize same-sex marriages. Starting in 2002, it gave some limited benefits to unregistered domestic partnerships. A first attempt to pass same-sex marriage failed in early 2011 because of the lack of support in the legislature. However, in May of the same year, a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions was passed by the House, and signed into a law in July by Governor Lincoln Chafee (I), who is expected to sign the 2013 bill promptly after it is adopted. He already signed an executive order in 2012 recognizing out-of-state same-sex unions.

The civil union bill caused some discontent as it gave the right to religiously affiliated organizations and institutions to deny benefits to spouses in civil unions. The religious question rose again during the present debate, as both sides of the debate can't seem to agree on what constitutes the right middle ground to accommodate freedom of religion. Even within religious congregations the bill causes much debates. While Catholics firmly oppose it based on its scriptures. “Homosexual activity is sinful, contrary to God’s plan ... it should never be encouraged, ratified or‘blessed’’ by the state,” said the leader of Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic Diocese. Meanwhile, Bishop Knisley of the Episcopalian Diocese says that as long as believers remain faithful to Jesus Christ, then there can be a variety of opinions.

Along with some religious creeds, many conservatives are unhappy with the passage of the bill. They have it especially against the Republican State Caucus, which unanimously approves the bill. The regional director for the National Organization for Marriage vowed to unseat Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere if the bill passes, as he “will have broken with the Republican Party, and he will have also broken with the people who have elected him.”

But in the end, this result could be mitigated. In New York State, GOP senators who voted for same-sex marriage in 2011 were actually able to keep their seats thanks in part to a fundraiser lead by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Otherwise, Delaware is likely to be the next state to recognize same-sex unions. Governor Jack Markell (D) introduced the bill there a few weeks ago and is confident that it will pass, as the Democrats control all of the state Congress. Stay tuned to see if both states will join the marriage equality movement for good.