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    Rhode Island takes step closer to gay marriage OK

    PROVIDENCE — Rhode ­Island appears poised to ­become the nation’s 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry after a legislative panel voted Tuesday to send same-sex marriage legislation to the full House for a final and largely procedural vote.

    The outcome of Thursday’s House vote is not in doubt, as the House passed an earlier version of the bill in January.

    “We’re one step closer,” said Senator Donna Nesselbush, Democrat of Pawtucket and the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. “Every step is exciting.”

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    Governor Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign the bill into law after it passes the House.

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    Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

    Heavily Catholic Rhode ­Island is the only New England state that does not allow gay marriage, although bills legalizing it have been introduced every year since 1997.

    Three people spoke out against the bill at Thursday’s hearing, saying gay marriage should be illegal and would lead to a moral decline.

    The first gay marriages in Rhode Island could take place Aug. 1.