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Religious exemptions key to R.I. gay marriage debate

PROVIDENCE — The fate of gay marriage legislation in Rhode Island could hinge on the exemptions it affords religious groups that oppose it, the state Senate president said Friday, a day after the House overwhelmingly passed the bill.

Teresa Paiva Weed said she remains opposed to the bill and has heard that the sticking point for many senators is on how broad will be a religious exemption in the measure. Rhode Island is the only New England state that does not allow same-sex marriage.

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The Newport Democrat said she does not want to fast-track the legislation and promised a ‘‘full and fair debate’’ on what she said is a personal and emotional issue for many lawmakers. She made the comments during a taping of WJAR-TV’s ‘‘10 News Conference.’’

She said she does not know whether there is enough support in the Senate to pass the legislation, which would make Rhode Island the 10th state in the nation to allow gay marriage. ‘‘There’s a whole group of people who are genuinely struggling with this issue,’’ she said. ‘‘The debate and the discussion in the Senate will be very real, and neither I nor anybody else . . . really knows what the final outcome of that will be.’’

She would not detail her own objections to the bill or say what it would take to get her to support a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, saying it would be inappropriate for her to comment because of her leadership position.

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