Yesterday, the Rhode Island State Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill now returns to the State House of Representatives, which already voted in favor of a similar bill. Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican U.S. Senator, is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his office.
If and when Rhode Island finally codifies same-sex marriage into law, it will make New England the first region in the country where all states have legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples. According to PRRI’s recent survey, a slim majority of American (52%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. However, in New England, support increases to 7-in-10 (70%) residents. This high level of support may be related to the concentration of the religious groups most likely to favor same-sex marriage in the region.
New England has a low percentage of groups opposed to same-sex marriage. Only 7% of New Englanders identify as white evangelical Protestants, compared to nearly 1-in-5 (18%) Americans overall. Only 24% of white evangelicals favor same-sex marriage (71% are opposed). Black Protestants, who also oppose same-sex marriage (37% favor, 57% oppose), are also underrepresented in New England compared to the national population (3% vs. 8%). Instead, Catholics (30%), mainline Protestants (22%), and Jews (6%) are overrepresented among New Englanders, and majorities of these groups favor same-sex marriage (57%, 55%, and 81%, respectively). In addition, 1-in-5 (21%) New England residents are religiously unaffiliated, a figure that’s similar to the rest of the country. More than three-quarters (76%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans favor same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts was the first New England state to approve same-sex marriage in 2004. It was later joined by Connecticut (2008), Vermont (2009), New Hampshire (2010), and Maine, which is one of the three states that extended marriage rights for same-sex couples through referendum last November.