On Thursday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state, with a vote of 51-19. The bill will now head to the State Senate, where it is expected to face tougher opposition.
Though she is against same-sex marriage, Senate president Teresa Paiva-Weed will allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to take up the bill, which will most likely happen some time in the spring.
The bill’s supporters, including the openly gay Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, hoped to capitalize on the current momentum behind marriage equality, including the passage of voter referendums in Maine, Maryland and Washington and a very public endorsement by President Obama in his inaugural address.
Thanks in part to Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, there is also a newly elected crop of lawmakers in the General Assembly who support same-sex marriage legislation. They include 10 new representatives and five new senators. Governor Lincoln Chafee is also a strong proponent of gay marriage.
Should Rhode Island’s Senate pass the bill, New England will officially be the gayest part of the country as every other state in the region has legalized same-sex marriage. However, Fox notes that RI, despite being deeply Democratic, tends to be more socially conservative than its neighbors.
“It’s a combination of the quirkiness of our little state, the really entrenched opposition of our Catholic Church,” Fox told The New York Times, as well as the dominant role the church has historically played in the past.