Rhode Island on Thursday became the nation’s 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, as a 16-year effort to extend marriage rights in this heavily Roman Catholic state ended with the triumphant cheers of hundreds of gays, lesbians, their families and friends.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law on the Statehouse steps Thursday evening after a final 56-15 vote in the House. The first weddings will take place Aug. 1, when the law takes effect.
After Chafee signed the bill, the hundreds of people who gathered on the Statehouse grounds erupted into cheers as a chorus sang “Chapel of Love.”
“Now, at long last, you are free to marry the person that you love,” Chafee told the crowd.
Once consigned to the political fringe, gay- marriage advocates succeeded this year thanks to a sprawling lobbying effort that included support from organized-labor leaders, religious clergy, leaders including Chafee and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and hundreds of volunteers.
Supporters framed the issue as one of civil rights, arguing in daylong legislative hearings that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights and protections given to opposite-sex married couples.
The Roman Catholic Church was the most- significant opponent, with Bishop Thomas Tobin urging lawmakers to defeat what he called an “immoral and unnecessary” change to traditional marriage law.
Bishop Tobin was the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown from 1995 to 2005.