Rhode Island lawmakers introduce marriage bills in House and Senate

Two Rhode Island state lawmakers on Thursday formally introduced bills in the state House and Senate that would legalize marriage equality for same-sex couples, setting the stage for Rhode Island to become the tenth — or eleventh, depending on progress in Illinois – state to where same-sex marriage is legal.

State Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Cranston, R.I.), the bill’s sponsor in the House, said that he’s confident the marriage bill will pass this time around. More than 40 members of the 75-member House have signed on as co-sponsors.

“We are long overdue. Rhode Island, the colony founded on the principle of personal liberty, is now the only New England state that doesn’t allow same-gender couples equal marriage,” Handy said, in a statement.

“Rhode Islanders recognize that same-gender couples deserve the rights and responsibilities that other couples already enjoy, and support has been getting wider every year,” he said.

In the Senate, the measure was introduced by Sen. Donna Nesselbush (D-Pawtucket); the Senate version has 11 sponsors in the 38-member Senate.

Nesselbush, who is openly gay, said in a statement that the issue is “intensely personal” to her.

House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), who is also openly gay, said he wanted a vote on the measure by Jan. 31.

In 2011, Fox dropped marriage legislation when it became apparent the Senate wouldn’t pass the bill. Instead, lawmakers approved civil unions for same-sex couples that offer many of the legal rights afforded to married couples.

But within the first six months of the civil unions law taking effect, fewer than 50 couples took advantage of the new law.

In the House, the bill now moves to the House Judiciary Committee, where Handy said he hopes there will be a hearing on the measure in the next couple of weeks.

In the previous legislative session, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport), who opposes same-sex marriage, would not allowed a vote on a marriage, but she said her position on allowing a vote has since changed.

Weed told WLNE-TV that she would “absolutely not” stand in the way of a marriage bill if that’s the will of the General Assembly.

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