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Civil Unions Rare In RI So Far

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Same-sex Rhode Island couples aren’t exactly lining up to file for Civil Unions, according to the most recent numbers made available by the state.

Since Governor Chafee signed the Civil Unions bill into law in July, just ten couples have moved forward with obtaining those rights, a sign that gay couples might not be completely supportive of a law that includes an amendment which allows religious institutions to not recognize a Civil Union.

Civil Unions were arguably the most controversial issue taken up during the last General Assembly session. Openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox originally sought to pursue same-sex marriage, but after realizing he didn’t have the votes in the Senate, he threw his support behind Civil Unions.

Fox: I Understand

Fox’s change of heart angered many members of the LGBT community, who felt he should have pushed harder for same-sex marriage. Fox has maintained that he is still a supporter of full marriage equality and that Civil Unions were a step in the right direction.

In a statement to GoLocalProv, Fox said he understands why couples would rather wait than enter into a Civil Union that does not offer the exact same rights as a marriage.

“I understand if some same-sex couples wish to wait until full marriage equality passes, but this legislation gives couples the option to have full legal rights immediately should they desire them,” Fox said. “When it became obvious that the votes did not exist for marriage equality this year, the short-term goal was to make civil rights available right away. But the ultimate goal, which I remain committed to, is to work for the passage of full marriage equality.”

MERI: Not In Civil Unions Business

Marriage Equality Rhode island (MERI) campaign director Ray Sullivan said he isn’t surprised by the lack of Civil Unions that have taken place in the state so far. He said his organization has been willing to provide all information to couples seeking a Civil Union, but that the organization’s official stance will not change.

“We’re never going to be in the Civil Unions business,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing for marriage equality.”

Sullivan said MERI will seek to repeal the amendment (sponsored by Rep. Arthur Corvese) that allows institutions to not recognize Civil Unions and that contrary to what some lawmakers have said, they do not believe same-sex marriage is off the table in 2012.

“Marriage is the gold standard,” he said. “We’re going to be smart and strategic about what we do [next year].”

State Rep: Look At New York

Another supporter of same-sex marriage, State Rep. Chris Blazejewski, said the lack of Civil Unions in the state is a sign that Rhode Islanders want more.

Blazejewski said the Ocean State to look what is happening in New York, where thousands of couples have pursued marriage licenses since lawmakers voted in favor or same-sex marriage.

“All you need to do is compare Rhode Island to New York state, which recently ended marriage discrimination and granted same-sex couples full marriage rights,” he said. “In New York City on the first day alone, nearly one thousand gay and lesbian couples applied to be married. We won't see that here until we have full equality.”

Civil Unions Not Good Enough

For Sullivan and MERI, the battle continues. Sullivan said his organization is already planning for the next General Assembly session and of course, the 2012 elections.

And he’s got a message for lawmakers that think Civil Unions are good enough:

“If anyone thinks passing a second class bill is going to placate a marriage quality bill, they’re doing so at their own political peril,” he said.


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