With cheering supporters behind him, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, signed the bill at an outdoor ceremony in front of the state House, shortly after the bill cleared its final hurdle in that same chamber, 56-15. The bill's passage was celebrated on the House floor, too, with legislators singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" after the bill's passage. The same bill had passed the state Senate, 26-12, in late April.
The bill's signing means that all six New England states now have legalized gay marriage. Including Rhode Island, four of those states passed a civil unions law -- seen by some as a compromise -- prior to redefining marriage.
Massachusetts was the first in the region -- and the nation -- to legalize gay marriage when a court ruling went into effect in 2004.
The Rhode Island law will go into effect Aug. 1.
Chafee, in his 2011 inaugural address, called for the state to legalize gay marriage. He is a former Republican U.S. senator who left the party partly because he disagreed with its social conservatism.
"Today we are making history," Chafee told the crowd at the bill signing. "I am proud to say that now, at long last, you are free to marry the person you love."
Christopher Plante, executive director of National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, had urged state legislators to defeat the bill.
"Children deserve to know and be cared for by a mom and dad," Plante said. "This law will intentionally deny children one or the other. The full impact may not be seen next week or next year, but our children will be the ones who pay the price for this decision."
The new law lacks necessary religious liberty protections, Plante added. He had urged the legislature to amend the bill to ensure that "individuals, small businesses and religious-based charitable and educational groups" opposed to gay marriage are not targeted by "government or others with lawsuits, fines, denials of contracts."
Plante provided several examples of what happens in states that legalize gay marriage but fail to provide religious liberty protections. Among the examples:
-- Owners of a Vermont bed and breakfast had to pay $30,000 in fines and fees after a lesbian couple was told the inn would not host their same-sex reception.
The bed and breakfast owners and florist say gay marriage conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Delaware could become the 11th state to redefine marriage. The Delaware House passed a gay marriage bill in April, 23-18, sending it to the state Senate. The governor has said he would sign it.
Thirty states define marriage within their state constitutions as being between a man and a woman.
Read resources about the gay marriage debate:
FIRST-PERSON (Daniel Akin): Is it true Jesus never addressed same-sex marriage?
FIRST-PERSON (Glenn Stanton): Why not legalize gay 'marriage'?
If gay marriage is legalized, polygamy is next, briefs warn
Briefs: Religious liberty on line in marriage cases
Briefs: Gay marriage would harm children
Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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