Rhode Island's House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would legalize same-sex marriage, setting up a crucial vote in the Senate on the controversial issue.
The state would become the 10th to recognize same-sex marriage, which is also legal in the District of Columbia. Currently, Rhode Island is the only state in New England where same-sex partners cannot marry.
The House bill, which redefines marriage as "the legally recognized union of two people," passed 51 to 19.
Rep. Arthur Handy had repeatedly proposed the bill for 11 years.
"My wife and I have been married since 1997, and as we’ve worked together to raise our son, the value of having a committed, strong family has become more apparent to us over time," Handy said in a statement after House passage. "All Rhode Islanders deserve to enjoy that security and support, and deserve to have their family recognized as equal to others."
The state's independent governor, Lincoln Chafee, also supported the measure.
"Although this vote is indeed historic, there is still a long way to go," Chafee said in a statement. Chafee had previously issued an executive order recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. "Now that the House has swiftly acted, I urge Senate leadership to 'call the roll' -- for our economy, for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, and for history."
Stiffer resistance is expected in the upper chamber. The Providence Journal reported that Senate leaders could take months before even debating the bill.