US: Rhode Island Senate passes equal marriage bill

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The Senate in the US state of Rhode Island today voted to pass a bill to legalise equal marriage, putting the state in a position to become the tenth to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday passed bill S38, 26 votes to 12.

Because of an amendment in the Senate, the House will need to vote again to approve the bill. If it is passed again by the House, it will go to Governor Lincoln Chafee for his signature.

The five Republicans in the Rhode Island Senate said prior to the vote that they were backing equal marriage.

The Senate Republican Caucus announced that its members would support legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state.

While the Republican caucus only holds five of the Senate’s 38 seats, its backing is another indication of the growing support for marriage equality in Rhode Island.

It is now the only New England state not to have implemented equal marriage rights for gay couples.

The final vote in the House is expected next week, and afterwards it will be signed into law by the Governor. It would go into effect on 1 August.

Yesterday, the House in the US state of Delaware passed a bill to legalise equal marriage, taking the state one step closer to legalising same-sex marriage. The legislation passed today by 23 votes to 18.

As with the Delaware legislation, the Rhode Island bill has specific protections for religious institutions, stating that they will not be forced to perform same-sex marriages, if it goes against their beliefs.

The US Supreme Court recently heard arguments around Proposition 8, the state of California’s ban on equal marriage. During the hearing, the justices questioned the meaning of marriage, and challenged arguments for the ban. 

One day prior, the Supreme Court Justices indicated a possible interest in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as it heard arguments around the issue.

A decision by the Supreme Court is expected in both cases by the end of June.

France has become the 14th nation in the world to legalise equal marriage after its National Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday afternoon.