Same-sex marriage in Rhode Island became legal on August 1, 2013. The state had authorized a limited form of domestic partnerships from 2002 to 2011, and the formation of civil unions from 2011 until the state began recognizing same-sex marriages in 2013.

History Edit

Beginning in 2002, Rhode Island allowed for unregistered domestic partnerships that provided a small number of legal benefits to same-sex couples. For example, the surviving spouse of such a partnership, if a police officer, fire fighter, or correctional officer, could receive a death benefit. Domestic partners could adjust their state taxes to reflect the costs of health insurance premiums.[1] Domestic partners could control the funeral arrangements of a deceased partner.[2] This status became inactive with the state's adoption of civil unions.[1]

In February 2007, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch issued an opinion advising that same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts be recognized in Rhode Island. He said that "his interpretation permitted recognition of the marriages, although he acknowledged that it was just an opinion and did not have the force of law."[3] The Human Rights Campaign noted that "This is not a binding opinion and the attorney general noted that this question will most likely be answered by the courts."[4][5]

Courts Edit

In September 2006, Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Thomas E. Connolly ruled that same-sex couples who live in Rhode Island can marry in Massachusetts. The ruling was a response to a 1913 law that prohibited Massachusetts from performing marriages that were not legal in the couple's home state. The ruling did not affect the status of such marriages in Rhode Island.[6]

In December 2007, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held, in a 3–2 opinion, that the state's Family Court lacks jurisdiction to hear a divorce petition involving a same-sex couple who were married in Massachusetts.[7]

Civil unions Edit

In May 2011, a bill to legalize civil unions rather than same-sex marriage was introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly.[8] On May 19, 2011, the bill passed the Rhode Island House of Representatives by a vote of 62 to 11, with two Representatives not voting.[9] The Rhode Island Senate then passed bill on a vote of 21–16 on June 29.[10] The governor signed the bill on July 2, 2011, and the bill retroactively took effect as of July 1, 2011.[11][12] The legislation included extensive and controversial exemptions that allow any religiously affiliated organization or institution, such as schools, universities and hospitals, to deny recognition of spouses in civil union, which made it unpopular with advocates of marriage equality.[13]

Since the legalization of civil unions in Rhode Island, participation has been very low.[13] As of February 2012, only 46 couples had established civil unions.[14] Civil unions have not been available since August 1, 2013, when the bill legalizing same-sex marriage took effect, but existing civil unions are still recognized.[15]


In early 2011, legislation to legalize same-sex marriage was introduced. Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent at the time, had previously indicated that he would sign such legislation if it were approved by the state legislature.[16] In April 2011, the legislation stalled due to lack of support in the legislature[17] and contentious debate.[18]

On May 14, 2012, Governor Chafee signed an executive order recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages.[19][20]

On January 3, 2013, Rep. Arthur Handy and Sen. Donna Nesselbush introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The House version had 42 of 75 members as sponsors, while the Senate version had 11 of 38.[21] On January 7, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin called the legislation "immoral and unnecessary" and recommended a referendum over enacting same-sex marriage by statute.[22] Gov. Chafee said on January 11 that he would probably veto such a referendum.[23] The Episcopal Bishop of Rhode Island, W. Nicholas Knisely, said he was "eager to see our state legislature join many others across the country in passing legislation to ensure civil marriage equality."[24]

The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation unanimously on January 22.[25] The House passed the bill on a 51-19 vote two days later.[26] The Rhode Island Council of Churches endorsed the legislation on January 31.[27] On April 23, all 5 Republican state senators announced their support for the legislation—the first time a party's caucus in a state legislature has supported same-sex marriage unanimously—and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation in a 7-4 vote while defeating a proposal to present the issue to voters as a referendum.[28] On April 24, the Rhode Island Senate passed an amended version of the bill by a 26-12 vote.[29] On April 30, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the legislation.[30] The House passed the legislation on May 2 on a vote of 56 to 15,[31] and Chafee signed the legislation the same day.[32] Bishop Tobin reiterated his opposition the same day and wrote a letter to Rhode Island Catholics that said "homosexual acts are ... always sinful" and advised that "Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies. To do so might harm their relationship with God."[15]

The legislation took effect on August 1, 2013.[15]

Public opinion Edit

An independent May 2009 poll conducted by Brown University showed that 60% of Rhode Islanders supported legalizing same-sex marriage, while 31% opposed doing so.[33]

Various polls have been commissioned by participants in the same-sex marriage debate, including Rhode Island Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which opposes same-sex marriage. The poll results reflect different question wording and sampling, with NOM's polls generally showing far weaker support for same-sex marriage than other polls.[34]

Forty-three percent of Rhode Islanders are Catholic.[35] A survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for Rhode Island Marriage Coalition in August 2010 showed that 63% of Catholics supported same-sex marriage provided it did not infringe on the church's right to choose whom it marries.[36]

Public Policy Polling reported that a poll taken in January 2013 found 57% of Rhode Island voters supported the legalization of same-sex marriage and 36% opposed legalization. Given other options, 31% preferred civil unions to marriage and 13% opposed all forms of legal recognition for same-sex relationships.[37]

A survey conducted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University on February 21–23, 2013, found that 60.4% of Rhode Island voters supported same-sex marriage and 26.1% opposed.[38]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Rhode Island Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved on December 19, 2012.
  2. Geen, Jessica. "Rhode Island approves funeral rights for gays", January 6, 2010. Retrieved on December 19, 2012. 
  3. Zezima, Katie. "Rhode Island Steps Toward Recognizing Same-Sex Marriage", February 22, 2007. Retrieved on December 19, 2012. 
  4. Human Rights Campaign: "Rhode Island Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law", accessed July 3, 2011.
  5. Marriage FAQ. Marriage Equality Rhode Island. Retrieved on July 3, 2011. “it is still a complicated issue about whether these marriages will be respected in Rhode Island.”; GLAD: "Marriage Guide for Rhode Island Same-Sex Couples", p. 8: "legal uncertainty remains in this area", accessed July 3, 2011
  6. Zezima, Katie. "Rhode Island Couple Wins Same-Sex Marriage Case", September 30, 2006. Retrieved on December 19, 2012. 
  7. Chambers v. Ormiston, 935 A.2d 956 (R.I. 2007) The court's pre-publication text is at Margaret R. Chambers v. Cassandra B. Ormiston, (December 7, 2007) No. 2006-340. P06-2583. Justice William P. Robinson III wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Frank J. Williams and Justice Frank Flaherty. Justice Paul Suttell's dissent was joined by Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg.
  8. Bolcer, Julie. "R.I. House to Hold Civil Unions Hearing", May 11, 2011. Retrieved on December 19, 2012. 
  9. Edgar, Randal. "RI House approves 'civil unions,' 62 to 11", May 19, 2011. Retrieved on December 19, 2012. 
  10. MacDougall, Ian. "RI passes civil unions bill; gov intends to sign", Greenwich Time, June 30, 2011. Retrieved on June 30, 2011. 
  11. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signs bill allowing civil unions
  12. Edgar, Randal. "R.I. House approves civil unions", May 20, 2011. Retrieved on May 20, 2011. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Governor signs Rhode Island civil union law, but pleases no one", Keen News Service, July 3, 2011. Retrieved on September 29, 2014. 
  14. Go Local Prov (February 21, 2012). ACLU: Civil Unions an "Embarrassment" in Rhode Island. Retrieved on May 10, 2013.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Klepper, David. "RI Now 10th State to Allow Gay Marriage", May 2, 2013. Retrieved on May 6, 2013. 
  16. Chafee's election renews hope for R.I. gay marriage movement
  17. Gay marriage bills stall in legislature
  18. "Gay RI House speaker takes heat for marriage vote", Google News, May 18, 2011. Retrieved on May 20, 2011. 
  19. Niedowski, Erika (May 14, 2012). Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Governor, Declares State Will Recognize Out-Of-State Gay Marriages. The Huffington Post. Archived from the original on May 15, 2012. Retrieved on May 14, 2012.
  20. "Rhode Island Order on Gay Unions", The New York Times, 15 May 2012. Retrieved on 16 May 2012. Archived from the original on 16 May 2012. 
  21. Edgar, Randal. "Same-sex marriage bills introduced in RI House and Senate", January 3, 2012. Retrieved on January 13, 2013. 
  22. "Providence bishop says gay marriage 'unnecessary'", January 7, 2013. Retrieved on January 13, 2013. 
  23. Edgar, Randal. "R.I. religious leaders react to Chafee's likely veto of gay-marriage referendum bill", January 11, 2013. Retrieved on January 13, 2013. 
  24. "Bishop Knisely's statement on marriage equality in Rhode Island", January 19, 2013. Retrieved on January 22, 2013. 
  25. Edgar, Randall. "R.I. House committee sends same-sex marriage bill to House floor", January 22, 2013. Retrieved on January 22, 2013. 
  26. Edgar, Randal. "R.I. House approves bill to legalize same-sex marriage", January 24, 2013. Retrieved on January 24, 2013. 
  27. Edgar, Randal. "RI State Council of Churches endorses same-sex marriage", January 31, 2013. Retrieved on February 1, 2013. 
  28. Eckholm, Erik. "Gay Marriage Measure Advances in Rhode Island", April 23, 2013. Retrieved on April 24, 2013. 
  29. Breaking News | | The Providence Journal. Retrieved on 2014-04-05.
  30. Gregg, Katherine. "R.I. House Judiciary Committee unanimously approves same-sex marriage bills", April 30, 2013. Retrieved on May 1, 2013. 
  31. Edgar, Randal. "Rhode Island House passes same-sex marriage bills, 56 to 15", May 2, 2013. Retrieved on May 2, 2013. 
  32. Edgar, Randal. "Chafee signs same-sex marriage bills, making Rhode Island the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage", May 2, 2013. Retrieved on May 2, 2013. 
  33. Poll: R.I. Favors marriage equality
  34. Politifact Rhode Island: The Truth-O-Meter
  35. Religion by Location. (April 23, 2007). Retrieved on February 13, 2009.
  36. Poll: Rhode Island voters support same-sex marriage. Bay Windows. Retrieved on August 18, 2010.
  37. Nesi, Ted. "Poll: Raimondo is favorite for gov; Chafee does best as a Dem", January 31, 2013. Retrieved on January 31, 2013. 
  38. Poll: R.I. supports same-sex marriage

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