Rhode Island to legalise gay marriage after Senate vote

State Senator Donna Nesselbush State Senator Donna Nesselbush, a Democrat, cheered in the chamber after the bill passed

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Rhode Island's state legislature has approved a bill legalising gay marriage, making it the 10th US state to back same-sex marriages.

The state Senate passed the legislation in a 26-12 vote.

A similar bill passed easily in the state House in January and has the support of Governor Lincoln Chafee.

Rhode Island was the last state in the New England region to allow gay marriage. Hundreds of supporters in the statehouse cheered the vote.

The bill now returns to the state House to approve minor changes made since January. A final vote could come as early as next week.

When Governor Chafee signs the bill into law, gay marriage will be legal in 10 states and Washington DC, the nation's capital city.

"It's almost unreal to think we're here, after all these years,'' Ken Fish, a 70-year-old gay man from Warwick, told the Associated Press. "I wasn't sure we'd ever get here."

On Tuesday, the Senate's five Republicans announced they would all support the legislation.

Governor Chafee, an independent, encouraged supporters to contact their senators ahead of the vote.

The legislation states that religious institutions may set their own rules for whom they deem eligible to marry.

It also specifies that no religious leader is obligated to perform any marriage ceremony.

The Catholic Church in the state opposed the bill, and during senate debate, many legislators said they had to weigh their religious beliefs against their constituents' desires.

Polls have shown a rapid rise in support for same-sex marriage in the US, and President Barack Obama and most US Senate Democrats now back same-sex marriage.

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