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May 14, 2012

RI Gov Chafee Issues Order for State Agencies to Recognize Marriages of Same-sex Couples

Today Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) issued an executive order directing state agencies to recognize the marriages of the state’s same-sex couples, in compliance with established Rhode Island marriage recognition law.  Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) commended the action and described the beneficial effects it will have on Rhode Island families.

GLAD issued a publication, Rhode Island Agency Recognition of the Marriages of Same-Sex Couples: Your Government Respects Your Marriage to help married Rhode Island same-sex couples understand what this means for them.

“The executive order will have immediate positive impact on married same-sex couples, who now will be able to receive consistent, equal treatment from their state government,” says Karen L. Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney with GLAD, who worked with the Governor’s office on the order.

“We thank the Governor for his leadership. This is exactly the kind of incremental progress toward marriage equality that the state needs,” says GLAD Staff Attorney Janson Wu. “Now it’s the legislature’s turn to protect all families without delay by passing marriage equality.”

GLAD and Marriage Equality Rhode Island had together urged the Governor to issue the executive order.  Over the past several months, GLAD has been working with the Chafee administration on behalf of several married couples and surviving spouses seeking respect for their marriages from various state agencies.  Rather than addressing the issue on a case-by-case basis, however, this provides comprehensive recognition for the marriages of same-sex couples by public agencies in Rhode Island.

The executive order has broad impact, affecting any aspect of state programs that turns on a person’s marital status.  It will ensure that married same-sex couples are treated the same as married different-sex couples regarding employment benefits both for state employees and for any insured plan regulated by the state, public pensions, workers compensation protections, birth certificates for children born to married same-sex couples, and social services provided by the state.

The order is solidly rooted in established Rhode Island comity law.  Rhode Island has always recognized marriages lawfully celebrated in other jurisdictions, regardless of whether the couple could have married in Rhode Island.  Governor Chafee’s order makes plain that these same principles apply to the marriages of same-sex couples, and provides clear instructions to state agencies as to how to do so in executing their duties.

Rhode Island has yet to pass marriage equality legislation.  In 2011 the legislature passed civil union legislation.  Very few Rhode Island same-sex couples have entered into civil unions, but many have been married in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and other states. “Clearly there’s work still to be done,” says Wu. “In the meantime, Rhode Island families can feel more protected and secure.”