How we won the freedom to marry across New England

Yesterday, the Rhode Island Senate approved a bill to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples across the state of Rhode Island. The bill now returns to the RI House of Representatives, which overwhelmingly passed a slightly different version of the marriage bill earlier this year, and then awaits the signature of Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has promised to sign the bill into law. 

When the freedom to marry takes effect, Rhode Island will be the eleventh jursidiction in the United States where same-sex couples can marry, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, New York, Maine, Maryland and Washington. 

Yesterday's vote makes it all but certain that this year, same-sex couples in states across New England will be able to share in the freedom to marry. How did we get here? Let's go back to 2004 and track how marriage moved forward across the region. 

Massachusetts: 2004

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that there is no rational basis under the law to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples, making Massachusetts the sixth jurisdiction in the world (after the Netherlands, Belgium, and three Canadian provinces) to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On May 17, 2004, marriages began. In the years that followed, anti-marriage activists attempted to limit the freedom to marry by proposing discriminatory constitutional amendments. In 2007, the Massachusetts legislature blocked back these attempts to roll back marriage protections, and in July 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law to ensure that same-sex couples from outside of Massachusetts could marry in the state. State groups like MassEquality and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders worked tirelessly to ensure that all loving and committed couples could marry in the state and that those marriage laws were protected.  Read more. 

Connecticut: 2008

On October 10, 2008, Connecticut joined Massachusetts as the second state to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage with the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling to uphold the freedom to marry in Kerrigan and Mock v. the CT Department of Public Health, a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. Same-sex couples began marrying on November 12, 2008. In April 2009, with bipartisan support, the Connecticut legislature voted to reaffirm the court's decision and realign state statues to uphold the freedom to marry, and the Governor signed the bill into law. Before the Supreme Court passed the freedom to marry, same-sex couples could join together in civil union, which provided some of the protections and responsibilities that marriage provides. Read more. 

Vermont: 2009

Vermont had long been a pioneer in the campaign to win equal protection for same-sex couples: In 2000, after the landmark court case Baker v. Vermont, the Supreme Court in Vermont ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to same "benefits and protections" afforded to married opposite-sex couples. Unfortunately, at the time, the legislature settled for the creation of civil union, a lesser status that extended some protections to same-sex couples but did not allow them with the dignity, respect, and understanding that comes with the freedom to marry. In April 2009, the legislature amended its previous error and voted to extend the freedom to marry to all loving couples in Vermont. The governor vetoed the law, and just days later, the Vermont House and Senate moved to override the veto by voting with veto-proof majorities. Same-sex couples began marrying in the state on September 1, 2009. Read more. 

New Hampshire: 2010

On June 3, 2009, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch signed a freedom to marry bill into law after it was approved by the state legislature, and the first marriages for same-sex couples in New Hampshire began on January 1, 2010. In the months that followed, a Republican majority took control of the state legislature, and some lawmakers moved toward attempts to repeal the freedom to marry. A bill to repeal the marriage law was introduced in 2011, and anti-marriage activists vowed to secure the two-thirds majority required to override a veto from Gov. Lynch, who promised to veto any attempts to repeal the marriage law. In 2012, after a long campaign led by Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, legislation to repeal the marriage law was defeated. It signaled a sea change for support for marriage among Republicans, as many Republicans in the legislature voted against repealing the law. Read more.

Maine: 2012

On November 6, 2012, a majority of Mainers voted YES on Question 1 at the ballot on Election Day, marking the first time that the freedom to marry has ever won a popular vote in the United States, and the first time marriage advocates proactively ran a marriage ballot campaign. Same-sex couples began marrying in Maine on December 29, 2012. The vote was especially monumental in Maine because three years earlier, in 2009, an anti-marriage ballot campaign resulted in the repeal of the freedom to marry, which had been passed by the Maine legislature and Maine Gov. John Baldacci in May 2009. Read more.

Rhode Island: 2013  

This year, marriage advocates in Rhode Island have joined together and made it clear that the state is ready to join the rest of New England and end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Rhode Islanders United for Marriage has led a wonderful campaign, and yesterday, marriage moved forward to the point where the freedom to marry is all but certain to take effect in the coming months. The marriage law must now be approved by the House one final time before visiting the desk of Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Marriages for same-sex couples are expected to begin this summer. Read more.  

For a more detailed history of the campaign to win marriage across the United States, check out Freedom to Marry's interactive timeline tracking over 40 years of developments for the freedom to marry