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RI ACLU Says Latest Statistics Show State’s Civil Union Law Remains a “Complete Failure”

Posted: May 02, 2012|Category: Discrimination Category: LGBT Rights

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On the morning of a General Assembly hearing on three separate bills aimed at addressing the inequalities faced by Rhode Island’s same-sex couples, the RI ACLU released statistics today indicating that the state’s “compromise” civil union statute remains “a complete failure.” During the first three months of 2012, the ACLU reported today, only six couples took advantage of the state’s civil union law, which was enacted last year over the strong protests of the state’s gay and lesbian community.

RI executive director Steven Brown said today: “These latest statistics demonstrate beyond any doubt that the civil union statute is a complete failure. If the General Assembly truly cares about ensuring fairness and equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian couples, it will recognize that the time has come for passage of a marriage bill.” The six licenses issued throughout January, February and March mean that in the first nine months since the law has been in effect, a total of only 52 couples have obtained civil union licenses. 

Last September, the RI ACLU issued a report that examined twelve other states that in recent years had enacted marriage, civil union or domestic partnership legislation 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. The report cited a number of reasons why Rhode Island’s statute was being shunned by couples, including the presence of an extremely broad “religious” exemption, known as the “Corvese Amendment,” that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose. A bill to remove this provision, allowing religiously affiliated institutions to disregard the validity of a couple’s civil union, is among those being addressed at the hearing, along with a bill to allow legally married same-sex couples to divorce and the marriage equality bill.

The ACLU’s Brown said: “By not taking advantage of the civil union law, Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian couples are sending a very clear message: they want passage of true marriage equality legislation. The only way to provide true equality is to grant same-sex couples access to the same government licensing system that different-sex couples have to protect their families.”

When civil union laws took effect this year in Delaware and Hawaii, 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 numbers remain far behind any other state with civil union, marriage or domestic partnership laws.

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