Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Few gay couples opt for newly legal civil unions

Though a law allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions has been on the books since July, few couples have taken advantage of the new option, and the change has spurred little fanfare in the gay community.

After months of legislative wrangling over a possible bill to legalize gay marriage, House Speaker Gordon Fox, D-Providence, recommended halting progress on a gay marriage bill in favor of one to legalize same-sex civil unions. Fox, who is openly gay, said he chose to back civil unions after concluding that a gay marriage bill had little chance of passing in the state Senate.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Brown's Queer Political Action Committee both spoke out against Fox's decision. Gabe Schwartz '13, a co-director of Queer Political Action Committee, said several bills, in addition to the marriage equality bill, were being considered, and civil unions already had substantial support in the General Assembly before Fox backed the bill. "There was no reason for Fox to change his support," he said. "It was in my mind sort of a betrayal."

But since the law went into effect, few civil union ceremonies in Rhode Island have occurred. "Only 10 couples have taken advantage of civil unions," said Ray Sullivan, the campaign director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island. He said the figure pales in comparison to the number of same-sex marriages that have taken place in New York, where one out of four marriages have been between same-sex partners since the state began recognizing gay marriages July 24.

In the past, other states have initially adopted civil unions before approving gay marriage, but Schwartz said the civil unions bill could halt progress toward legalizing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.

Schwartz suggested the lack of interest in entering into civil unions is more a result of practicality than a political statement. A same-sex couple living in Rhode Island can choose to marry in a neighboring state, like Massachusetts, with ease, rather than choosing a civil union in Rhode Island. "We have better options close by," Schwartz said. "Why would we do something that doesn't respect us as a couple?"

The civil unions law also includes an amendment permitting religious organizations to refuse both to perform civil unions and to recognize them, another reason for the law's lack of support among activists and same-sex couples. It also allows private religiously affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and schools, to deny rights normally given to spouses in civil unions, Sullivan said.

Schwartz said he worries that the legalization of civil unions will lull gay marriage activists into complacency, adding that the subtle legal differences between civil unions and marriage lead people to assume the same rights are afforded to each. These assumptions slow efforts to push for same-sex marriage, he said.

The Queer Political Action Committee plans to coordinate with Marriage Equality Rhode Island and other gay marriage advocates to decide how to proceed. Schwartz said the group is currently creating a guide to educate voters on which Rhode Island politicians support or oppose LGBT rights, including marriage.

"There's a ton happening," Sullivan said of his organization's current activities. The group plans to fight the religious-affiliated exemption amendment while continuing to push for marriage equality.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.