After a moving speech by a senator who described herself as a devout Catholic but 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 FranÃ§ois 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 included strong Republican support of the measure. Republican Senator Dawson Hodgson said the Republican caucus was "unanimous" in its support of the bill. In fact, all five Republican voted for the bill; and one-third of Democrats voted against, 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 12 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 Uruguay and New Zealand (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."
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