"Today we are making history... we are living up to the ideals of our founder," Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, told a jubilant crowd at the State House. Chafee signed
the bill into law immediately following the House of Representatives' 56-15 vote
in favor of marriage equality.
"We would not be where we are today without the Rhode Islanders who for decades have fought for tolerance and freedom over discrimination and division," Chafee said. "I am proud to say that now, at long last, you are free to marry the person you love."
The marriage equality bill had previously passed the Senate with the support of the entire Republican caucus.
Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox, an openly gay Democrat, tearfully declared that "true equality is something that is inherently human."
"We're not going to be talking about same-sex marriage anymore, we're going to be talking about marriage," Fox said.
LGBT advocates hailed Thursday's historic vote. Jenn Steinfield, a co-founder of Marriage Equality Rhode Island
, said she was heartened by how the equality movement grew from a few people to thousands, many of them straight people.
"I think that's wonderful," Steinfield told the Huffington Post. "Seeing the tide change, seeing people who aren't personally affected support us, it's just been amazing."
The new law goes into affect on August 1. All six New England states have now legalized gay marriage, as have New York, Iowa, Maryland and Washington state, as well as Washington, DC and three Native American tribes. Fourteen nations-- the latest being France
, New Zealand
-- have also achieved marriage equality.