Rhode Island became the 10th U.S. state to embrace marriage equality, following a procedural vote in the House of Representatives and independent governor Lincoln Chafee's signature on the Marriage Equality Act today.
Chafee had a message for LGBT Rhode Islanders in a speech on the steps of the State Capitol in Providence, where he signed the bill: "At long last, you are free to marry the person you love."
"The doors that were knocked on, the conversations that took place, the calls that were made to legislators — this is what pushed us over the line," Chafee said. "When your belief and heart is in something, it's easy work."
The ceremony awaited a procedural House vote that was a foregone conclusion, as the chamber approved an earlier version of the legislation in January, according to the Associated Press. The state Senate approved the bill April 24 by a vote of 26-12. Marriage equality could take effect by August 1, reports AP.
Noting his early support — as a Republican U.S. senator in 2004— for marriage equality, Chafee wrote an op-ed for the The New York Times Thursday in which he said he's happy to see his former party colleagues evolve on the issue.
"I personally feel that Rhode Island is a better state, and America is a better country, when we are as inclusive as possible," Chafee wrote. "I have been heartened in recent months to see members of my old party coming around on marriage equality, including the entire Republican caucus in the Rhode Island Senate — the first time a caucus of either party has been unanimous in its support. That reflects sound political judgment, and some values that are at least as Republican as they are Democratic, including a belief in marriage as an institution and a desire to keep government out of our personal lives."
Rhode Island was the last state in New England to establish marriage equality and the 10th state in the nation, in addition to Washington, D.C., to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
After Chafee signed the legislation he handed a copy to House speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay. And Fox held it high in the air to cheers. In a speech earlier, Fox noted the many "parents" of the successful effort to pass marriage equality. Fox said government "does work but in order to work it needs you, and it needs us. You have to make known what your concerns are, you have to be engaged." But from now on, he said, "We're not going to be talking about same-sex marriage anymore, we're going to be talking about marriage."