The Rhode Island branch of the ACLU has issued a report slamming the state’s new civil union law that was enacted despite strong protests from the LGBT community that the legislation was practically worthless, saying ”it is difficult to think of another ‘civil rights’ bill that has generated so much attention, yet done so little for so few.”
The 22- page report says that only 14 — that’s right, 14 — gay and lesbian couples have entered into a civil unions in the state since the law went into force July 1.
The report notes that “no other state that has passed a law formally recognizing gay and lesbian couples has seen such a paltry and lackluster response to its passage.” In fact, taking a close look at the twelve other states that in recent years have enacted marriage, civil union or domestic partnership legislation for gay and lesbian couples, the report notes that the initial rate of license issuances in those states has often exceeded Rhode Island’s rate by a factor of tenfold or more. The report also stresses that the statistics for Rhode Island are unlikely to get better, pointing out that “it is precisely in the immediate aftermath of these laws’ enactments” that couples are most apt to make use of them. The lesson, concludes the report, “is clear: if Rhode Island is serious about recognizing the status of lesbian and gay couples, full marriage equality is the only appropriate response, and one that the General Assembly must take up.”
The 22-page report, “Two Months of Civil Unions in Rhode Island: Already Time for a Divorce?”, cites at least three major reasons why the new statute is being shunned by couples: the inclusion of an incredibly broad “religious” exemption that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose; the dashed expectation that, after twelve years of effort, a vote on a marriage bill would finally take place this year; and the prevalence of marriage states throughout New England, where “Rhode Islanders can travel a few hours in just about any direction and be in a state that, unlike their own, recognizes full marriage equality.”
Calling the data “irrefutable” that Rhode Island’s “civil union law is a bust, providing little benefit to anyone,” the report argues that “Rhode Island needs to pass true marriage equality legislation.”
Recognizing that any action to legalize same-sex marriage is unlikely until after 2012, the report urges for two interim changes.
The state’s civil unions law has been called fatally flawed by LGBT rights supporters because it contains a provision known as the “Corvese Amendment” that not only allows religious organizations the freedom to say they will not honor civil unions — as is standard with same-sex relationship legislation at the moment — but also allows for religious-affiliated schools, hospitals and cemeteries to entirely disregard the legal standing of a civil union, leaving same-sex couples bitterly vulnerable and without the coverage the civil unions law was supposed to provide.
This is an addition to the bill that Governor Chafee even acknowledged “eviscerates the important rights that enacting a civil union law was meant to guarantee for same sex couples in the first place.” Amending this aspect of the law, the ACLU report states, “will at least keep the law from actually undermining any statutory protections that gay and lesbian couples already have, and may encourage more people to apply for licenses.”
The report also urges the Rhode Island Assembly to pass legislation allowing same-sex couples who live in the state and have been enjoined in a lawful marriage somewhere else to be able to divorce: this is something that a Rhode Island Supreme Court decision prohibits, says the ACLU report, noting that the court ruling teamed with a lack of recognition for same-sex marriage creates an “absurd situation where people live in a state that refuses to recognize their marriages, yet requires them to stay married even if they wish to divorce.”