On April 24, the Rhode Island Senate, by a vote of 26-12, passed a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s smallest state. Because the Senate made some technical changes to the bill, the measure must now go back to the Rhode Island House. Given that the House passed the bill in January by a vote of 51-19, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) has promised to sign it, Rhode Island likely will become the 10th state in the nation to allow gays and lesbians to wed.

If, as expected, Rhode Island legalizes same-sex marriage, it would follow a number of states that recently have taken that step, including New York in 2011 and Washington state, Maine and Maryland in 2012.

Four other states have been debating the issue in recent months. In Illinois, a bill allowing gays and lesbians to wed passed in the Senate in February. So far, however, the measure has not been taken up by the House, where supporters still lack the votes for passage, according to news reports.

On April 22, the Nevada Senate passed a resolution that would eliminate state constitutional language (approved by voters in 2002) banning same-sex marriage. If the Nevada House approves the measure, it could put the proposal back in voters’ hands.

Meanwhile, on April 23, the Delaware House passed a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to wed. The bill, which has the support of Gov. Jack Markell (D), now goes to the state Senate, where the vote is expected to be close, according to the Associated Press.

Finally, in Minnesota, a measure legalizing same-sex marriage could come before the House in the next few weeks. In the November 2012 election, voters rejected a proposal to add language banning same-sex marriage to the state’s constitution.

All of this action at the state level comes as the Supreme Court considers two same-sex marriage cases – one involving a challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage (Proposition 8) and another concerning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The high court heard arguments in the cases in March and is expected to rule on them in June.

According to polling from the Pew Research Center, public attitudes toward same-sex marriage have shifted markedly over the past decade. Polling conducted in 2003 found that most Americans (58%) were opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to marry, and just a third (33%) were in favor. A new Pew Research survey, conducted March 13-17, 2013, among 1,501 adults nationwide, shows that those figures have flipped, with 49% supporting same-sex marriage and 44% opposed.

The number of countries around the world where same-sex marriage is legal also has been growing. That list has surpassed a dozen nations, as outlined in a Pew Research analysis.

This analysis was written by David Masci, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Photo Credits: © Corbis/Larry Lee