NEW: ACLU Calls Civil Unions Bill “A Bust”
Monday, September 26, 2011
The Rhode Island ACLU issued a report today calling the state’s civil union bill “a bust.” The report, which highlights a “lackluster response” to the bill’s passage – a mere 14 gay or lesbian couples have applied for civil union status since the bill’s inception in June – calls for “passage of true marriage equality legislation.”
In comparison to 12 other states that have recently enacted marriage, civil union or domestic partnership legislation for gay and lesbian couples, Rhode Island’s initial rate of license issuance is dismal, according to the 22-page report. In Illinois, the only other state this year to also implement a civil union law, over 1,600 licenses were issued in the first month of their availability, compared to the nine licenses issued in that time period in Rhode Island. Even adjusted for population differences, the rate of license issuance in Illinois exceeded that of Rhode Island more than tenfold. This disparity is typical of data available from other states, the report shows.
The report cites three major reasons for the legislation’s failure in Rhode Island: the inclusion of an incredibly broad “religious” exemption that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose; the dashed expectation that, after twelve years of effort, a vote on a marriage bill would finally take place this year; and the prevalence of marriage states throughout New England, where “Rhode Islanders can travel a few hours in just about any direction and be in a state that, unlike their own, recognizes full marriage equality.”
Acknowledging that the General Assembly is unlikely to pass true marriage equality legislation in 2012, the report encourages two interim actions by the legislature next session. The first is to repeal the religious exemption, officially known as the Corvese amendment, that, according to Governor Lincoln Chafee “eviscerates the important rights that enacting a civil union law was meant to guarantee for same sex couples in the first place.” Second, the report urges the Assembly to pass legislation allowing same sex couples who live in Rhode Island and have been lawfully married elsewhere to get a divorce in Rhode Island, ending an “absurd situation where people live in a state that refuses to recognize their marriages, yet requires them to stay married even if they wish to divorce