Rhode Island banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1995 and based on gender identity/expression in 2001.  However, Rhode Island does not recognize the relationships of lesbian and gay people except for the purpose of making funeral arrangements.

That may soon change.

A marriage equality bill was introduced this week into both chambers of the Rhode Island legislature.

In the House, Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston introduced his annual bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. The 29 lawmakers [out of 75] co-signing the bill include House Speaker Gordon D. Fox.

As she introduced similar legislation in the Senate, Sen. Rhoda Perry, D-Providence, said she hoped it would get a hearing and vote early in the legislative session.

A mirror of Handy’s bill, it legalizes “civil marriage” between people of the same gender to marry, while specifying that no religious institution would be required to marry same-sex couples if that would go against their teachings.

Not mollified by the bill’s reiteration of the 1st Amendment right for religious institutions to discriminate against those they don’t wish to conduct marriage ceremonies for, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Church’s Diocese of Providence has made the usual “we love homos, but…” statement:

As the State of Rhode Island enters into a more intense debate about ‘gay marriage,’ with all the emotions surrounding that issue, I first want to re-affirm that the Catholic Church has nothing but the utmost respect and care for individuals with homosexual orientation. They are children of God and our brothers and sisters. We seek God’s blessings upon them; they deserve the same respect and love afforded to others.

At the same time, the push to legalize the marriage of homosexual persons is morally wrong and detrimental to the well-being of our State.

He’s not taking the morally relativistic view that many of his Roman Catholic colleagues have adopted that civil unions are the lesser of two evils.  Yet.  But just wait.  Like his colleagues he’s sure to change his tune on what is morally permissible when the House minority leader is pushes his civil unions “compromise”.

The marriage equality bill has the full support of Governor Chaffee.  In his 2011 inaugural address, Gov. Chaffee urged the Assembly to quickly pass marriage equality legislation.