Rhode Island becomes 10th US state to back gay marriage

Same-sex marriage supporters celebrate in Providence. Photo: 2 May 2013 Same-sex marriage supporters celebrated in Providence by holding a victory party

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Rhode Island has become the 10th US state to allow same-sex marriages.

Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill - shortly after the final approval of the measure by the state's lawmakers.

Hundreds of gay rights activists celebrated the move outside the Statehouse in the capital, Providence, by holding a victory party.

The first weddings are due to take place on 1 August when the law takes effect. The Catholic Church in the state opposed the bill.

"Now, at long last, you are free to marry the person that you love," Gov Chafee told the cheering crowds after signing the bill.

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 debates many legislators said they had to weigh their religious beliefs against their constituents' desires.

Rhode Island is the last state in the New England region to allow gay marriage.

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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