Gay and Lesbian Couples Say “I Don’t” to State’s Civil Union Law
Reviewing a year’s worth of data, the Rhode Island ACLU reported today that gay and lesbian couples have emphatically said “I Don’t!” to the state’s civil union law. According to statistics obtained from the RI Department of Health, a total of only 68 couples obtained civil union licenses in the first year of the law, which took effect July 1, 2011. By contrast, when civil union laws took effect earlier this year in two states with similar populations to Rhode Island, Hawaii reported the issuance of at least 106 civil union licenses, and Delaware reported more than 85, in the first month alone.
Rhode Island’s law was passed last year over the strong objections of same-sex marriage advocates. Last September, the RI ACLU issued a report that documented how, from the start, Rhode Island’s numbers have lagged far behind any other state with civil union, marriage or domestic partnership laws for gay and lesbian couples. The report noted that the initial rate of license issuances in those states, adjusting for population, often exceeded Rhode Island’s rate by a factor of tenfold or more.
Use of Rhode Island’s law has seen an even steeper decline in the second six months of its existence. From January to June of this year, only 11 couples obtained civil union licenses.
There are a number of explanations for why Rhode Island’s statute has been shunned so thoroughly by couples. A major reason was the adoption of an extremely broad “religious” exemption in the law, known as the “Corvese Amendment,” that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose. The amendment essentially allows any religiously affiliated institutions or employees of those institutions to disregard the validity of a couple’s civil union. In addition, four of the five other New England states authorize same-sex marriage, highlighting the second-class status of civil unions for Rhode Islanders.
House Speaker Gordon Fox has promised a vote next year on a same-sex marriage bill, something proponents have been pushing for many years. RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today that that vote “will come none too soon. A year’s worth of data make it abundantly clear that gay and lesbian couples have emphatically said ‘I don’t!’ to the civil union law. Everybody must recognize what an utter failure this attempt at ‘compromise’ has been, and that only the true equality that comes from a marriage law will suffice.” Emphasizing just how irrelevant last year’s law has turned out to be, Brown noted that while 22 individuals obtained civil union licenses from January to June of this year, 23 Rhode Islanders won $10,000 or more playing Powerball in the same period of time.