On July 2nd of this year, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a bill which legalized civil unions in the Ocean State.
Though Governor Chafee recognized that the bill was “imperfect” (as it did not give full marriage rights to gays and lesbians) he believed that it was a step forward and was a bill that brought “tangible benefits to thousands of Rhode Islanders”.
But, new data from the Rhode Island government, collected by the Associated Press shows that during the first month of legal civil unions, only nine couples took advantage of the new law.
The civil unions legislation was passed with overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate, yet with great opposition from organizations on both sides of the same-sex union debate.Conservative religious organizations, such as the Catholic Conference, opposed the bill because it was a recognition of same-sex relationships and might lead to the “redefinition of marriage”. Marriage Equality Rhode Island’s Martha Holt also decried the civil unions bill, stating:
Civil unions are unacceptable because they marginalize gay and lesbian couples in very significant ways. The General Assembly will essentially be legalizing a two-class system that subjects thousands of Rhode Island same-sex couples to discrimination. We cannot support legislation that establishes a second class of citizens in Rhode Island.
That there has been only nine couples who have had a civil unions ceremony in the past month is no surprise to Marriage Equality Rhode Island spokesperson Dawn Euer:
If it had been marriage people would have been lining up … People are holding out for marriage. They want true equality, not a made-up, bureaucratic, second-class status.”
Religious organizations, to no one’s surprise, are stating the exact opposite of MERI’s analysis.
Instead of same sex couples holding out for marriage equality, NOM Rhode Island asserts that this shows that the push for marriage rights is only about “redefining marriage” and not about any sort of legal and financial protections for same-sex couples.
In an interview with Focus On The Family’s Citizen Link, NOM RI Executive Director Chris Plante stated that “Same-sex marriage advocates will seek to redefine marriage again in January. I’m not sure what they’ll be asking for this time. They can’t say, ‘We need this right or benefit or protection,’ because they’ve got it.”