Rhode Island ratified Thursday same-sex marriage bill after Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law, following a final 56-15 vote in the State House. The 10th state that legalized gay marriage will have its first same-sex wedding on Aug. 1, when the law takes effect.
"I know that you have been waiting for this day to come," Chafee said to the gay and lesbian community at a bill-signing ceremony in front of hundreds. "I know you have loved ones that dreamed this would happen but did not live to see it. But I am proud to say that now at long last, you are free to marry the person you love."
All six New England states now allow same-sex marriage; Rhode Island failed to pass the gay marriage bill for nearly 20 years because of its heavily Roman Catholic background.
The legalization of the bill in the conservative state came after gay marriage supporters were elected to General Assembly and advocates mounted an aggressive lobbying effort.
A day before the bill passed, the National Organization for Marriage called on the House to reject the legislation, which they say contains "a shocking lack of religious liberty protections, potentially ghettoizing people of faith unless they compromise and remain silent in the public square."
"When marriage is redefined into a genderless institution, it presents a range of legal conflicts for people of faith and the small businesses and charitable organizations they operate to serve the public," Christopher Plante, regional director for the organization, said in a statement.
Delaware could be the next state to approve gay marriage. Legislation legalizing same-sex marriage has narrowly passed the Delaware House and now awaits a vote in the state Senate.