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Rhode Island governor signs marriage-equality bill into law

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, signed the newly-passed marriage-equality bill into law today, as Rhode Island becomes the final New England state to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Providence Gay Men's Chorus serenaded the audience before the signing ceremony, held on the South Steps of the historic state House. Several gay lawmakers poured out their thanks for everyone who came together to pass the bill.

Hundreds of supporters cheered and hugged each other after Gov. Chafee took his pen and signed the bill in a formal ceremony.

Earlier today, the Rhode Island House voted a second time on the bill, in a procedural matter to approve the tinkering of the bill by the state Senate. On April 24, the Senate voted 26-12 to approve the bill. On Jan. 24, the House voted 51-19 to approve the bill, and today the House voted 56-15 in favor of the bill.

The Rhode Island House is led by Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay. During the final debate, which was broadcast live and online, the packed gallery applauded every representative who spoke out in favor for marriage equality and gave icy silence to those who didn't. Some lawmakers were afforded standing ovations, especially to those who told personal stories of family and friends who are gay and how they helped shape their vote.

Rep. Frank Ferri thanked his husband Tony, whom he married in Canada, and draw a SRO. He began choking up talking about the long journey to today, and announced that Speaker Fox would marry the couple on Aug. 1, when the law goes into effect and the date of their anniversary. The couple will have been together for 32 years come Aug. 1.

After the vote was announced to loud applause and cheering, the gallery burst into song, singing the first stanza of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." The stunned lawmakers rose and turned to the gallery, joining in song. Speaker Fox got teary-eyed, regained his composure, and blew kisses at the gallery.

The reaction

Rick Jacobs, founder of Courage Campaign:

“Across the country we are seeing rapid and historic shifts towards equality and freedom for all. With 10 states down, and 40 to go, Rhode Island is leading the way into the double-digits of states that support marriage equality.

"Politicians across the nation are waking up to the reality that same-sex marriage is not a partisan issue, but an issue of American freedom and fairness. This march of equality that began five years ago with the passage of Prop 8 will continue now into the halls of the Supreme Court, where we are confident the Justices, watching the actions of more and more states nationwide, will uphold freedom and equality for all.”

Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign:

"The unprecedented momentum for marriage across the country continues, with Rhode Island becoming the first state of 2013 to say yes to marriage equality. As the Supreme Court deliberates the fundamental right to marry the person you love, these historic and bipartisan victories keep mounting and prove the country is ready for marriage equality."

Where can you get married worldwide?

In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Vermont and Washington -- and in Washington, D.C. It also is legal within the Coquille Indian tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish Indian tribe in Washington state and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France (this summer), Iceland, the Netherlands (and the Caribbean island of Saba), New Zealand (August 2013), Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay (this summer).

In Mexico, same-sex marriage is available in the Federal District (Mexico City) and in the states of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo. The marriages are recognized nationwide by Supreme Court order.

In Brazil, same-sex marriage is legal in the states of Alagoas, Bahia, Paraíba, Rondônia, Santa Catarina and São Paulo. Elsewhere in Brazil, same-sex couples can enter into a "stable union" then go before a judge and convert the union into a full marriage.

Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.