(Reuters) - Rhode Island was set to become the 10th U.S. state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples after the state Senate approved a gay marriage bill on Wednesday, in a major victory for gay rights activists.
The state House had approved a similar measure in January, but the bill will now go back to the House for a new vote because it was amended. Gordon Fox, the speaker of the House, said in a statement that he will schedule that vote for May 2.
"Pending the final vote by the House of Representatives, Rhode Island will no longer be an outlier in our region," Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, said in a statement.
"We will have the welcome mat out. We will be open for business, and we will once again affirm our legacy as a place that is tolerant and appreciative of diversity."
Rhode Island, which allows civil unions, is the last New England state without a law allowing gay nuptials, and Wednesday's vote marks the latest in a string of victories for gay marriage advocates.
Last November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state voted to allow same-sex marriage, while in Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a legal challenge to a 1996 law that restricts federal recognition of marriage to heterosexual couples.
Lawmakers in Illinois, Delaware and Minnesota have also taken up same-sex marriage legislation this year. On Tuesday, the Delaware House approved the bill and it now moves onto the state Senate for consideration.
(Reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and Eric Beech)