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ACLU calls RI’s six-month-old civil unions law “an embarrassment”

February 20, 2012

Same-sex marriage legislation seems unlikely to go anywhere in the General Assembly this year. Be that as it may, the RI ACLU is panning Rhode Island’s six-month-old civil unions law:

The RI ACLU reported today that, after six months, “an embarrassingly small number of couples” – only forty-six – have taken advantage of Rhode Island’s civil union law, which was enacted over the strong protests of the state’s gay and lesbian community. Those figures contrast sharply with newly-released data from Delaware and Hawaii, states with similar populations to Rhode Island, and which implemented their own civil union laws last month. In just the first month of those laws, Hawaii reported the issuance of at least 106 civil union licenses, and Delaware reported 102. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, only seven couples obtained civil union licenses in November and December, including just one for the entire month of December. Rhode Island’s numbers remain far behind any other state with civil union, marriage or domestic partnership laws.

Following up on a detailed report it issued last September, RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today that the latest statistics show that the state’s civil union law is “virtually useless and continues to highlight the need for passage of true marriage equality legislation.” The ACLU’s September report 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. In Illinois, for example, the only other state that implemented a civil union law in 2011, over 1,600 licenses were issued in the first month alone. Meanwhile, in this month alone, Washington State enacted marriage legislation, New Jersey approved a marriage bill, though vetoed by the Governor, and Maryland is close to enacting a marriage law as well.

The ACLU report had 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. The ACLU’s Brown said today: “The latest statistics make abundantly clear that Rhode Island’s law is a textbook example of how not to treat gay and lesbian partnerships.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. M. Charles Bakst permalink
    February 21, 2012 3:51 am

    I am very sympathetic with the ACLU’s harsh analysis. I’d like to see that organization – or anyone – file suit on behalf of gay couples in Rhode Island who want to marry. Failure to allow such marriages seems to be an obvious violation of equal rights.
    M. Charles Bakst

  2. Mister Guy permalink
    February 22, 2012 2:33 am

    “RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today that the latest statistics show that the state’s civil union law is ‘virtually useless and continues to highlight the need for passage of true marriage equality legislation.'”

    I’m not an expert on whether or not RI’s civil union law is significantly different than other state’s civil union laws, but it seems a little early to declare RI’s recent civil union law DOA after only 2-6 months though. People in RI have had plenty of opportunity to get hitched one way or another in some very closely neighboring states for quite a while now.

    “Those figures contrast sharply with newly-released data from Delaware and Hawaii, states with similar populations to Rhode Island, and which implemented their own civil union laws last month.”

    Adjusted for population, Hawaii has the second highest marriage rate in the USA, which is more than 3 times the marriage rate in RI. Northeastern states have some of the lowest marriage rates in the USA, and marriage rates have been declining nationally & in RI for the last 20 years. RI’s marriage rate is also one of the lowest in New England & significantly below both the national average & the rates in states like IA, NH, NY, OR & VT. Again, adjusted for population, NV has by far the highest marriage rate in the USA, which is around 7 times the marriage rate in RI. Oregon has also banned same-sex marriage in their state constitution.

    http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2009/10/15/marriages-and-divorce-a-50-state-tour

    http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0133.pdf

    While these kind of statistics are harder to come by, at least CA, MA, NH & VT all appear to have a higher than national average percentage of self-identified gay, lesbian or bisexual people.

    VT was the first state to legalize civil unions long ago. About a decade later, they legalized same sex marriage, and the response from much of the gay & lesbian community in VT was basically a collective yawn. Many of those couples that had entered into civil unions in VT weren’t going to get married after the new law passed, since the benefits under gay civil marriage & civil unions were basically the same in VT.

    I personally don’t have a problem with gay civil marriage, but civil union laws have always seemed to be the right political compromise IMHO. I get what the RI ACLU is up to…they are trying to advocate for gay marriage in RI. They just need to be more careful with how they look at statistics.

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  1. Prop 8 Trial Tracker » ACLU report shows continued lack of enthusiasm for civil unions in Rhode Island

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