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Rhode Island's marriage equality strategy a 'recipe' for other states?

Rhode Island is days away from becoming the 10th US state to allow same-sex marriage. The combination of coalition building and old-fashioned politics that got it passed is 'a recipe that could definitely be replicated in other states,' says Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, but opponents credit shifting national attitudes.

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Though she opposes gay marriage, and ultimately voted against it, Senator Weed gave supporters a break when she announced that she would allow the issue to proceed through the Senate without her interference. Supporters had worried that despite election gains, their efforts might be stymied if Paiva Weed bottled up the bill in committee or refused to allow a vote.

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Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage rallied support from labor leaders, religious leaders and top officials like Governor Chafee, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo. Each week, the group rolled out new endorsements from business leaders and local mayors.

Hundreds of volunteers manned phone banks and wrote emails and letters to put pressure on undecided lawmakers in the Senate. Some lawmakers reported receiving hundreds of emails and phone calls. So many people signed on to help that Rhode Islanders United for Marriage had to relocate to bigger offices. Sullivan said his group made more than 12,000 phone calls, knocked on 25,000 doors, and mailed nearly 2,000 letters to lawmakers.

Some of the efforts weren't well-received. Sen. Harold Metts, a Providence Democrat who voted no, said he was called a bigot by some gay marriage supporters.

"This is America, and we are entitled to our opinions and our religious liberty afforded to us in the Constitution," he said. "It's ironic that those who sought tolerance and acceptance are so intolerant of others' religious views."

Several senators who had been undecided said they voted yes after hearing the personal stories of gay and lesbian constituents. For Catholic lawmakers, voting yes meant going against the wishes of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, who called gay marriage immoral and unnecessary.

Democratic Sen. James Doyle of Pawtucket said he had always planned to vote no until this year, when he was convinced by the story of a friend who is a lesbian. He said he was warned by a senior Catholic official that his vote could hurt his chances of getting into heaven.

"I've got to be honest with you folks," he told his colleagues during Wednesday's debate. "If the first thing our Lord asks me is, 'Why did you vote that way on same-sex marriage?' then I'm doing pretty good."

So where is the marriage equality fight moving next?

—Delaware. The state's House approved a bill Tuesday legalizing same-sex marriage on a 23-18 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate. It has the support of Democratic Gov. Jack Markell. Delaware approved same-sex civil unions last year.

—New Jersey. The Democratic-led legislature is expected to attempt to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie's veto of gay marriage legislation a year ago. But there aren't enough Democrats to guarantee an override, and Christie has suggested putting the question before voters.

—Oregon. Gay marriage advocates hope to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot that would reverse a ban on gay marriage passed by voters in 2004. The effort has the support of Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Minnesota. Hundreds of gay marriage supporters gathered at the state Capitol this month to urge lawmakers to vote for gay marriage. Legislation has cleared committees in both the House and Senate.

—Illinois. The state's Senate approved gay marriage legislation on Valentine's Day. Supporters in the House say they're still a few votes short but hope a vote is held before the General Assembly adjourns this spring. Gov. Pat Quinn supports the bill.

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