It’s been a big week for gay rights.
First basketball player Jason Collins made headlines by coming out as gay—the first active player in any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to do so. Then on Thursday, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
Rhode Island is the 10th state to sign such a bill into law, joining all of its fellow New England states.
The news has been a long time coming, considering that the Rhode Island House has taken up same-sex marriage legislation in every session since 1997. Although the state is politically liberal, opposition from portions of its large Catholic population stalled the bill for years.
This January, however, the state’s House of Representatives passed the legislation by a comfortable margin, following a more organized campaign from gay-marriage supporters, politicians and community organizers, NBC reports. It confirmed that decision on Thursday when it approved the bill’s final language in a procedural vote. Last week, the Senate also approved the law with a 26-12 vote.
“I am proud and humbled to make the Marriage Equality Act the law of the land in Rhode Island,” Chafee said in a statement. “We would not be where we are today without the Rhode Islanders who for decades have fought for tolerance and freedom over discrimination and division.”
Chafee is a long-time gay marriage supporter who served as a U.S. Republican Senator before winning the governorship as an independent in 2010. He has argued in favor of same-sex marriage as both a human rights issue and an economic necessity.
“The talented workers who are driving the new economy — young, educated and forward-looking — want to live in a place that reflects their values…Why would any state turn away the people who are most likely to create the economies of the 21st century?” Chafee wrote in a New York Times op-ed this week.
Gay marriage opponents, meanwhile, criticized the governor’s decision. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who leads the Diocese of Providence, said in a letter to the state’s Catholics that he is “profoundly disappointed” at the passage of an “immoral and unnecessary proposition.”
The law will take effect on Aug. 1. Gay couples will no longer have the option of entering into civil unions, which the state legalized two years ago, although Rhode Island will still recognize existing civil unions.
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