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ACLU: Civil Unions an “Embarrassment” in Rhode Island

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Nate Holterman, GoLocalProv News Contibutor & Dan McGowan, GoLocalProv News Editor

The ongoing fight for the passage of marriage equality legislation heated up again Monday after the Rhode Island ACLU reported that only 46 couples have taken advantage of that state’s civil unions law since it was enacted six months ago.

The low figures contrast starkly with states having similar populations to Rhode Island. Delaware and Hawaii, which recently implemented their own civil union laws have issued out more than twice the number of civil union licenses than Rhode Island.

In just the first month of their implementation, Hawaii issued at least 106 civil union licenses, while Delaware reported 102. These numbers are all the more shocking, taking into account that in the months of November and December alone, only 7 Rhode Island couples obtained civil union licenses.

Embarrassing

Steven Brown, the executive director of RI ACLU said that the “embarrassingly small number of couples” taking advantage of the state’s civil union law, show that the current legislation is “virtually useless and continues to highlight the need for passage of true marriage equality legislation.” Brown’s call for change reflects the initiatives being undertaken by states all across the nation. This February alone, Washington State enacted marriage legislation, Maryland is close to passing a marriage law, and New Jersey approved a marriage bill, although it was vetoed by the Governor.

Rhode Island’s numbers lag far behind any other state with civil union, marriage or domestic partnership laws. A former ACLU report, released last September, noted that the initial rate of license issuances in 12 other states often exceeded Rhode Island’s rate by ten times or more. The ACLU report released today cited numerous reasons why Rhode Island couples were spurning the current statute, including the presence of a broad “religious” exemption that considerably undercuts the law’s purpose.

“The latest statistics make abundantly clear that Rhode Island’s law is a textbook example of how not to treat gay and lesbian partnerships,” Brown said. “Not only have three states in the past year adopted much more meaningful and stronger civil union laws, but adoption this past year of new marriage laws in New York and Washington is placing Rhode Island even farther behind the times. Rhode Island must join its New England neighbors and provide true marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples before our law becomes even more of an embarrassment.”

Questions Raised

The new numbers raise questions as to whether lawmakers will be willing to support a same-sex marriage bill or at least a repeal of what is known as the “Corvese amendment,” which gives religious institutions an out when it comes to recognizing civil unions.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island executive director Ray Sullivan said it is clear that Rhode Island is still trailing other states when it comes to support for gay couples.

“What’s embarrassing is that Rhode Island still continues to lag behind other New England states in providing equal rights and recognition for same-sex couples,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the “Corvese amendment,” is especially harmful.

“The inclusion of the Corvese amendment in the civil unions law has made the law the most discriminatory of any law in the country and couples understand that,” he said.

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