February 21, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, WRNI covered a Rhode Island ACLU report showing that gay and lesbian couples in the state are still deeply skeptical about a civil union bill enacted last year, with most couples electing not to enter into civil unions due to the so-called ‘Corvese amendment,’ an extremely broad religious exemption clause that puts couples at risk of discrimination.
In the almost nine months that have passed since Gov. Lincoln Chaffee signed the civil union bill into law, according to RI ACLU’s latest report, a staggeringly low 46 couples have entered into civil unions. For perspective, the ACLU points out that in Delaware and Hawaii, both states with similar populations to Rhode Island that only began offering civil unions last November, over 100 couples have taken advantage of the only two-month-old laws. In Illinois, which also legalized civil unions in 2011, more than 1,600 licenses were issued in the first month alone.
2012 has already been a year of many victories for marriage equality, but there is still room for more successes. As Maryland prepares to pass its marriage equality bill late this week or early next week, it’s time to focus more on Rhode Island and to pressure lawmakers there to take action. As Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, Chris Gregoire of Washington and Martin O’Malley of Maryland have demonstrated over the last two years, strong executive support for marriage equality legislation is crucial to its success.
When Gov. O’Malley passively supported a marriage equality bill in 2011, the House of Delegates killed it; when he campaigned actively in 2012, the bill passed. Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee supports marriage equality and will sign the bill into law if it should pass, but he has not taken enough of an active role to make it a reality. It’s time for Gov. Chaffee, and Rhode Island’s legislature, to step up.