Rhode Island is on a path to becoming the 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry after a landmark vote in the state’s Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate passed gay-marriage legislation by a comfortable 26-12 margin, after a House vote of approval in January. The bill must now return to the House for a largely procedural vote, likely next week, but the celebration began Wednesday.
Hundreds of people filled the Statehouse with cheers after the vote.
“I grew up in Rhode Island, and I’d like to retire in Rhode Island,” said Annie Silvia, 61, who now lives with her partner of 30 years just across the border in North Attleboro, Mass. “No. 10 is a nice round number, but I’d like it to be bigger. Fifty sounds good to me.”
Heavily Catholic Rhode Island is the last remaining New England state without gay marriage.
Marriage legislation has been introduced in the state for nearly two decades, only to languish on the legislative agenda.
Supporters mounted a renewed push this year, and the Senate vote was seen as the critical test after the House easily passed the bill.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, called Wednesday’s vote historic.
“I’m very much looking forward to signing this,” he told The Associated Press as he congratulated supporters.
The first gay marriages in Rhode Island could take place Aug. 1, when the legislation would take effect.
Civil unions would no longer be available to same-sex couples as of that date, though the state would continue to recognize existing civil unions.
Lawmakers approved civil unions two years ago, though few couples have sought them.