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Same-sex marriage wins approval in R.I.

PROVIDENCE -- Rhode Island Thursday became the nation's 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to wed, as a 16-year effort to extend marriage rights in this heavily Roman Catholic state ended with the cheers of hundreds of gays, lesbians, their families and friends.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law on the statehouse steps Thursday evening following a final 56-15 vote in the House. The first weddings will take place Aug. 1, when the law takes effect.

"I've been waiting 32 years for this day, and I never thought it would come in my lifetime," said Raymond Beausejour, 66, a gay North Providence man who has been with his partner for 32 years. "For the first time in my life, I feel welcome in my own state." After Chafee signed the bill, the hundreds of people who gathered on the statehouse grounds erupted into cheers as a chorus sang "Chapel of Love."

The Catholic church was the most significant opponent, with Bishop Thomas Tobin urging lawmakers to defeat what he called an "immoral and unnecessary" change to traditional marriage law.

Tobin repeated his opposition Thursday, writing in a letter to the state's Catholics that "Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies. . . To do so might harm their relationship with God."

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 Senate.

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