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Topics In the News
Rhode Island Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/15/12
Last updated on: 05/15/12
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Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

On May 14, 2012 Governor Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order directing state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state as legal and to treat gay and lesbian married couples the same as heterosexual married couples. The executive order codifies the opinion handed down in 2007 by former Attorney General Patrick Lynch as to how the state should treat gay marriages from out-of-state. Lynch's non-binding opinion advised state college officials that they should recognize the out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian employees.

After a long and contentious debate in 2011, the state legislature refused to adopt marriage equality but did approve a civil unions law that conferred on same-sex couples the same legal rights and responsibilities afforded married heterosexual couples.

As he signed the executive order, Governor Chafee said that it clarifies long-standing law and will secure for gay couples important rights, including rights to health insurance and other benefits.

Some gay couples married outside Rhode Island have been denied some of these rights because state law is not clear on the subject.

According to an Associated Press story by Erica Niedowski printed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the executive order is expected to have many real-world consequences. Same-sex spouses of state employees and anyone covered by an insurance company regulated in Rhode Island will be entitled to health and life insurance benefits, gay rights advocates say.

In addition, both partners in a same-sex couple will be able to list their names as parents on a child's birth certificate, and same-sex couples will be entitled to sales tax exemptions on the transfer of property including vehicles.

Niedowski quotes Martha Holt Castle on the disappointment that she and her wife, Patricia, felt when they were not able to list both their names on their son's birth certificate when Martha gave birth to him in 2010. "I was devastated." She said Patricia ultimately became the boy's legal parent through a second-parent adoption.

"For our next child, we won't have to go through the same kind of turmoil," she said. The couple was married in Massachusetts in 2010.

Because so many coupled gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders were disappointed with the failure of the legislature to pass marriage equality last year, very few have entered into civil unions, opting instead to drive to nearby Massachusetts to marry.

Governor Chafee's executive order clarifying state policy will be helpful to them.

Ray Sullivan, campaign director of the group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, called the executive order "significant" and "bold."

Sullivan said that because there has not been clarity on whether the state recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere, some state agencies "haven't done the right thing."

Chafee called his order an important step but said he would continue to press for Rhode Island to enact marriage equality.

In the video below, from the Providence Journal, Governor Chafee explains the need for the executive order.

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