Rhode Island moves toward approval of same-sex marriage

(CNN) -- Rhode Island is moving toward becoming the 10th state in the nation and the last in New England to approve same-sex marriage, with a vote scheduled Wednesday in the full Senate.

"It's the first item on the calendar" for the legislative body, which was to convene at 4 p.m., Senate Press Secretary Greg Pare said about the bill, called S38. "It will be debated an hour or two, and then the vote."

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the measure Tuesday by a vote of 7 to 4.

Though the House version of the bill passed by a vote of 51 to 19 in January, the Senate amended it, "so it needs to go back to the House, where it has solid support," Pare said. The House could vote on the amended version as soon as next week, he said.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, has indicated support for the measure.

The Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday expressed unanimous support for the bill.

The Rhode Island Catholic Conference said Tuesday in a statement posted on its website that it appreciated that exemptions for religious organizations had been included in the bill. "Unfortunately, the exemptions fail to protect individuals and small businesses who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman," it said.

Scott Spear, an advisory board member of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, said he would have preferred the fate of the bill be decided in a public referendum rather than by the Senate.

"We believe the record of marriage as has existed throughout the history of civilization stands for an empirical truth, and that truth is a marriage is a union between one man and one woman," he said in a telephone interview.

Iowa, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia have all approved same-sex marriage. Their combined populations, based on U.S. Census estimates for 2012, represent 15.8% of the U.S. population.

The addition of Rhode Island's 1,050,292 residents would nudge that up to 16.1%.