Scant Interest in Rhode Island Civil Unions

Posted by Soren Sorensen


If recent statistics are any indicator, same-sex couples in Rhode Island aren’t exactly chomping at the civil unions bit.  Numbers obtained by the Associated Press in the middle of August reveal that only nine couples tied the civil union knot.  Yesterday, GoLocalProv reported that only ten same-sex couples have sought the rights and responsibilities associated with the new law since Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill nearly two months ago.

Many legislators who voted for H 6103, “An Act Related to Domestic Relations – Civil Unions,” see it as a compromise or a step in the right direction.  “Give it time,” Representative Peter Petrarca, who wrote the bill, told the Huffington Post on August 15th.  “It’s summer.  I’m sure we’ll see an uptick once people start figuring it out and deciding what they want.”

With the first day of fall a little more than three weeks away, marriage equality advocates in the Ocean State aren’t so sure.

An amendment to the bill, authored by Democratic Representative Arthur Corvese of North Providence concerns a number of same-sex marriage proponents and may be a reason for waning interest in civil unions.

Ray Sullivan at Marriage Equality Rhode Island told the New England Post that the Corvese amendment was “purported to be religious protection and exemption language,” language Sullivan himself called “common sense.”

“But actually, we believe that what it did was establish the most discriminatory language ever to be included in a marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships bill anywhere in the country.”

Sullivan continued, “Specifically, with the amended language, the bill could deny a civil unions spouse the ability to make medical decisions for his or her partner at a religiously affiliated hospital, despite having the legal authority to do so.”

Citing area hospitals like St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Fatima, Sullivan added that the Corvese amendment permits certain institutions to ignore state law.  “It allows religiously affiliated or private organizations to deny employees medical leave to care for a civil unions spouse.”

Sullivan called marriage “the gold standard” and said he and MERI would continue to push Rhode Island politicians to grant full marriage equality to their constituents, like New England neighbors in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont have already done.

Many of those who favor same-sex marriage are wondering how, in a state as small and fiscally strapped as Rhode Island, legislators could enact legislation that has the potential to drive gays and lesbians out of the state.

Ian Barnacle told the New England Post, “Although I live in Providence now and my job is in Rhode Island, I would seriously consider moving to Massachusetts, right over the state border, ten minutes from Providence, where I’d have rights I don’t have here.”

Barnacle said he personally knows two Rhode Islanders who left the state for precisely this reason.  The differences between Providence suburbs in Rhode Island and those in Massachusetts aren’t noticeable, Barnacle said.  A Rhode Island native, the single Mr. Barnacle said he wouldn’t think twice about leaving the state if the opportunity presented itself.

A realtor at Residential Properties in Barrington, he continued, “I don’t think that people understand what a civil union is and what rights are and aren’t supported.  That’s part of the problem.”

Only time will tell if same-sex couples embrace civil unions, wait for marriage or leave the state en masse, sapping the Ocean State of precious tax revenue as the Great Recession continues.

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Posted by Soren Sorensen on Sep 2 2011. Filed under Politics, Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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