The Rhode Island House of Representatives on Thursday approved [press release] a bill [H 5015, PDF] that would legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in the state. The bill passed by a vote of 51-19 after a lengthy debate on the House floor. Rhode Island is currently the only state in New England that has not legalized same-sex marriage, and previous attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in the predominantly Catholic state have been unsuccessful. The debate on the house floor drew strong opinions from both sides through discussions about civil rights, religion and marriage. Similar legislation [S 0038, PDF] has been introduced in the Senate, and Governor Lincoln Chafee has announced his support. In May Chafee signed an executive order granting recognition to same-sex marriages [JURIST report] performed outside of Rhode Island.
Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine states, as well as the District of Columbia. Earlier this week the US Supreme Court received briefs [JURIST report] in two separate cases defending the constitutionality of laws that define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. The first case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, examines the validity of Proposition 8 [JURIST news archive], a California referendum that revoked same-sex marriage rights. In the second case, United States v. Windsor, the court will examine the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in the two cases last month. Both cases could have an important impact on the ongoing same-sex marriage controversy in the US.