(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
The Rhode Island Senate voted on Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, moving it closer to becoming the 10th U.S. state to make such a change to the definition of marriage.
The New York Times noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of including gay and lesbian couples in the definition of marriage by a seven to four vote. The bill, however, seeks to protect religious leaders who oppose such unions from being forced to officiate ceremonies. A secondary Senate vote is to follow on Wednesday, but gay rights supporters are confident that Rhode Island will be the latest New England state to make the switch.
"We think that when the vote is called, we can win," said Ray Sullivan, campaign director of Rhode Islanders United for Marriage.
Conservatives and pro-family groups remain opposed to the bill and want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and a woman. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, expressed hopes that the bill can still be stopped.
"It's a lot tougher to win in legislatures," Brown added. "A sophisticated lobbying apparatus with tons of money has been created to go into state after state and convince legislators to vote against what their constituents want."
Religious opposition to the bill has also been found in the Roman Catholic Church.
"We should be very clear about this: it is only with grave risk to our spiritual well-being and the common good of our society that we dare to redefine what God himself has created. My prayer is that the senators will have all the wisdom and courage they need to do the right thing in this moment of decision," Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence warned senators before the vote.
Much like the rest of America, Rhode Island remains divided on the issue of gay marriage. A Public Policy Poll from 2011 found that 50 percent of respondents to the survey agree that gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry just like heterosexual couples. Forty-one percent maintain that the definition of marriage should remain between a man and a woman.
Young people under the age of 30 were more likely than older Americans to support same-sex marriage, with 62 percent saying they are for it and only 31 percent opposing.