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Rhode Island moves toward approval of same-sex marriage

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By Tom Watkins, CNN

(CNN) — Rhode Island moved toward becoming the 10th state in the nation and the last in New England to approve same-sex marriage after its state Senate voted Wednesday to approve a bill extending marriage rights.

Senators approved the bill 26-12 Wednesday afternoon.

Though the House version of the bill passed by a vote of 51 to 19 in January, the Senate amended it, “so it needs to go back to the House, where it has solid support,” Senate press secretary Greg Pare said. The House could vote on the amended version as soon as next week, he said.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, has indicated support for the measure.

The Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday expressed unanimous support for the bill.

The Rhode Island Catholic Conference said Tuesday in a statement posted on its website that it appreciated that exemptions for religious organizations had been included in the bill. “Unfortunately, the exemptions fail to protect individuals and small businesses who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman,” it said.

Scott Spear, an advisory board member of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, said he would have preferred the fate of the bill be decided in a public referendum rather than by the Senate.

“We believe the record of marriage as has existed throughout the history of civilization stands for an empirical truth, and that truth is a marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” he said in a telephone interview.

Iowa, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Their combined populations, based on U.S. Census estimates for 2012, represent 15.8% of the U.S. population.

The addition of Rhode Island’s 1,050,292 residents would nudge that up to 16.1%.

For some lawmakers, the issue transcends politics. During a debate Tuesday over reversing Nevada’s law banning same-sex marriage, state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson revealed that the issue is a personal one for him. “I’m black, I’m gay,” he said. “I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male.”

“It was an impulse decision,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview with CNN, adding that he had not planned on saying anything in the session. “I felt it was time to do it.”

The Nevada Senate voted 12-9 to start the process to repeal the gay marriage ban.

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