Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
News : Recent Press Releases     Op-Ed     Publications     About the Legislative Press Bureau Printer Friendly View
5/2/2013 Same-sex marriage bill becomes law
Governor signs historic bill after final passage by House

STATE HOUSE – With Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s signature shortly after a 56-15 vote House, same-sex marriage became law in Rhode Island today, to cheers of advocates and citizens who have pursued passage of the legislation since it was first introduced in Rhode Island in 1997.

“This is a great day in Rhode Island, not just for the many Rhode Island families who will now get the recognition and equality that they so richly deserve, and not only for the thousands who have been fighting for decades for the dignity and rights of all citizens. It is also a wonderful day for the generations of future Rhode Islanders who may never know a time when some people didn’t have all the same rights as others, and who hopefully will grow up wondering how on earth that ever could have been the law,” said House Speaker Gordon D. Fox (D-Dist. 4, Providence), the first openly gay House Speaker in the country and a cosponsor of the legislation every year that it has been introduced.

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, who last year signed an executive order requiring all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, signed the bill within moments of its passage in an outdoor ceremony on the south stairs of the State House. With enactment of this legislation, there will be 10 states nationwide, including all six New England states, plus Washington, D.C., that allow same-sex couples to marry.

“There have been so many words spoken about the importance of this legislation. Seventeen years worth of hearings. Seventeen years worth of stories from our friends, and neighbors, and family members, and constituents, talking about their lives, hopes, dreams, and love for their children or their partners. Today, at last, we can say that our state recognizes the validity of all of those stories, and the dignity, worth and love of all Rhode Island families,” said Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), who has introduced the legislation (2013-H 5015B) in the House for each of the last 11 years.

Said Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), the sponsor of the Senate bill (2013-S 38 A), “Every generation has its calling and its chance to ease the pain of discrimination and to advance the human cause. Women’s liberation emboldened black liberation which spawned the yearning for gay liberation...because deep down we do hold these truths to be self evident: that all people are created equal and that America’s promise is indeed for liberty and justice for all.”

The legislation, which takes effect Aug. 1, removes gender-specific language from the section of the general laws that governs eligibility for marriage. It inserts language that allows any person to marry any other eligible person, regardless of gender.

It contains a provision that allows couples who have entered into civil unions in Rhode Island since they were established in July 2011 to convert those unions into marriages by applying to the clerk in the municipality where it was recorded to have it recorded as a marriage without having to apply for anything else or pay a fee. If they would prefer, they would be eligible to apply for a marriage license and have the marriage solemnized.

The bill contains provisions protecting freedom of religion, reiterating the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith. It specifies that under no circumstances will clergy or others authorized to perform marriages be obligated by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage. It also stipulates that religious organizations shall not be required to provide services to a same-sex wedding celebration and that religiously affiliated fraternal benefit societies will not be required to promote such a marriage through social or religious programs or to provide membership or benefits related to a marriage that violates the doctrine of the affiliated religion.

In September, a WPRI poll of 501 likely voters in Rhode Island found that 56 percent of Rhode Islanders support same-gender marriage, and only 36 percent oppose it.

For the tally of today’s vote, visit, choose “5/2/2013” from the drop-down menu, and click “Submit.”

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923