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Marriage & Relationships | Marriage | Rhode Island

Rhode Island Marriage Q&A

Can same-sex couples legally marry in Rhode Island?

Yes, after many years of failed attempts and nearly two years after the passage of a civil unions bill in July 2011, on May 2, 2013, the Rhode Island General Assembly approved and Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a marriage equality law, An Act Relating to Domestic Relations-Persons Eligible to Marry (see, that extended the right to marry to same-sex couples effective August 1, 2013.

That legislation also ended the ability of same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Rhode Island on that same date and allows any couples already in a Rhode Island civil union to keep their civil unions or merge their civil unions into marriage (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-3.1-12).

Two years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges (135 S.Ct. 2584 (2015)), the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality a reality nationwide when it held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry. GLAD’s own Mary Bonauto represented the plaintiffs during oral arguments. Post-Obergefell, all 50 states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and all states must respect the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

How does one get married in Rhode Island?

The process for getting married in Rhode Island requires the following basic steps:

  1. If at least one party is a resident of Rhode Island, the couple must obtain a license from the clerk in the city or town where either party lives. If neither party is a resident of Rhode Island, the couple must obtain a license from the clerk of the city or town where the proposed marriage is to take place (R.I.Gen. Laws § 15-2-1).
  1. The couple must have the marriage solemnized (i.e. have a ceremony which is witnessed by at least two people in addition to the officiant) within 3 months of obtaining the license (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-2-8 and § 15-3-8).
  2. Once the ceremony has been performed, the person who performed it has 72 hours to return the license to the city or town where it was issued (R.I. Gen. Laws § 15-3-12).
  3. The clerk will then file the original, and the couple can receive an official certificate of their marriage.

For more detailed information see the GLAD Publication, Rhode Island Marriage Guide For Same-Sex Couples.

How does religion affect getting married in Rhode Island?

The Act also reiterates the right of any religion to set any requirements it chooses on who may marry within that religion and the right of any clergy person, rabbi or similar official to refuse to marry any couple.  It also provides further exemptions for religiously-controlled organizations and fraternal benefit organizations.

For some additional information see the GLAD Publication, Rhode Island Marriage Guide For Same-Sex Couples.

How will the marriage of a same-sex couple be respected?

Rhode Island will respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples regardless of where the marriage was performed, just as all states will now respect the marriage of a same-sex couple married in Rhode Island.

Will the federal government respect my marriage?

Yes. Thanks to the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States (133. S.Ct. 2675 (2013)), the federal government will recognize and respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

DOMA, a federal statute which defined marriage exclusively as the union between one man and one woman, once prevented same-sex spouses from accessing the 1000+ federal laws pertaining to marriage, including taxes, Social Security (including SSDI and SSI), immigration, bankruptcy, FMLA, federal student financial aid, Medicaid, Medicare, veteran’s benefits, and TANF. Happily, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. GLAD filed the first comprehensive challenge to DOMA in 2009, Gill v. OPM (699 F.Supp.2d 374 (D. Mass. 2010)), and the legal framework developed in that case was used in many subsequent cases, Windsor included. GLAD was also responsible for coordinating the Windsor amici briefs.

Unfortunately, one issue that has yet to be definitively resolved by Windsor and Obergefell concerns spousal benefits and self-insured health plans. While Connecticut state law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, self-insured health plans are governed by federal law. Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, only prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—sexual orientation is not explicitly included. As a result, some self-insured employers claim they can legally deny benefits to same-sex spouses.

Luckily, this issue is far from settled. Recently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) took the position that Title VII’s prohibition against ‘sex discrimination’ encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation (see Baldwin v. Foxx, Agency No. 2012-24738-FAA-3 (July 15, 2015)).

If your employer is discriminating against you in spousal healthcare benefits on the basis of sexual orientation, contact GLAD Answers.

What happens if we need to end our marriage?

After Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex spouses everywhere should be able to dissolve their marriages on the same terms as different-sex spouses.  Rhode Island applies its divorce statutes to same-sex couples.

However, spouses should note that when Rhode Island courts divide marital property and award alimony, one of the factors a judge considers is the length of the marriage (R.I. Gen. Laws §15-5-16(b) (alimony) and § 15-5-16.1(a) (division of property)). The judge cannot include as marital property, property held in the name of one spouse if held by that spouse prior to marriage (R.I. Gen. Laws §15-5-16.1(b)). Unfortunately for spouses whose partnership predated marriage equality, the length of the marriage may not accurately reflect the true length of the relationship, resulting in an unbalanced division of assets.

If you are going through divorce proceedings in Rhode Island and believe your division of assets may be unfairly affected by length of marriage, contact Glad Answers.

Can Rhode Island same-sex couples get married anywhere else?

Yes.  Thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, all states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.