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RI losing millions on same-sex couples marrying elsewhere

Marriage equality

By Jacob Combs

As an adopted Rhode Islander, I can vouch for the uniqueness of our nation’s smallest state.  Li’l Rhody is deep blue, but also highly religious, and while poll after poll continues to demonstrate a sizable majority of voters in support of marriage equality, Rhode Island remains the one New England state where gay marriage has not yet been legalized.

When the state passed a law creating civil unions this summer (against the protests of both anti and pro-gay marriage groups alike), it was seen as a Pyrrhic victory by marriage equality activists.  What is most interesting, however, is just how decisively same-sex couples have declined to be partnered under the new law.  Only 14 couples have applied for civil unions in the last five months, a number dwarfed by the number of gay couples who applied to marry on the first day alone when New York  began issuing marriage licenses in July.

Earlier this week, Providence Eyewitness News reported that instead of joining in civil unions, same-sex couples in Rhode Island are leaving the state to get married in one of myriad states surrounding theirs where marriage equality is a reality.  Marriage Equality Rhode Island, an advocacy group, believes the 250 Rhode Island couples that married in Massachusetts between 2004 and 2008 contributed $8 million to that state’s economy; a UCLA study predicts that marriage equality would make Rhode Island $1.2 million in three years.

Of course, there are plans to introduce a marriage equality bill in the Rhode Island legislature this year.  Similar bills have been introduced every year since 1997, but none have succeeded so far.

Check out the full video, from WPRI, below:

(UPDATE: In the comments, Dave points out that Maine, like Rhode Island, does not have marriage equality.  Maine did legalize gay marriage in 2009; voters repealed it a few months later.  Thanks for the clarification, Dave.)


  • 1. Sheryl_Carver  |  November 12, 2011 at 7:31 am

    You know what? We aren't trying to "redefine marriage" as much as NOM & their ilk are trying to redefine discrimination, as they are always claiming that being anti-equality isn't REALLY discrimination.

    From P8TT's post on the Senate Judiciary Hearing on DOMA:

    Sen. Schumer points out that those who discriminate historically have always make the same argument; they say that “this discrimination is different than previous types of discrimination or they said we shouldn’t do it because a lot of people don’t like it…

  • 2. Eric  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Perhaps we are trying to redefine marriage. The Williams Institute just released a study and the same-sex couple divorce rate is half that of different-sex couples.

  • 3. Sheryl_Carver  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Sounds more like enhancing or improving marriage to me, Eric! 🙂

    Thanks for posting the link.

  • 4. MightyAcorn  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Feh. The "redefine marriage" meme sure gets lots of unwarranted mileage, dunnit? But no one wants a "redefined" marriage. Everyone just wants a marriage, the legal family relationship created between two people who file the proper paperwork. The question really is *who* gets to define marriage, and the religiopolitical rightists are desperately trying to keep that privilege for themselves. I've been saying for almost a decade that marriage law is the last large section of our state laws dictated by a religious sensibility, and it's time to assert our birthright as Americans to be free of dogma in our civil code.

    In light of that statistic Eric, maybe the NOMbies should stop allowing their own kind to "redefine marriage." Remarriage after divorce is adultery (according to JC) and isn't adultery a stoning crime? Newt Gin-grinch better wear a helmet to the next debate, then.

    But that's only if if we pretend this is all about religious sanctity when it's really just about political power and money, and everyone knows it.

  • 5. Steve  |  November 12, 2011 at 9:20 am

    The problem with the "redefining marriage" meme is that it buys into the ridiculous idea that marriage is this unchanging thing that has always been the same as it is now. Which is simply flat out wrong. Marriage today is very different from just 150-200 years ago.

  • 6. Pat  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:14 am

    As much as marriage has changed over the years, one thing has never changed: the sex of the partners. Because if you change that one part of it, then the word has no meaning whatsoever. What is marriage, then, the union of two people? And why just two people? (pssst…the answers is procreation)

  • 7. MightyAcorn  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Psssst, Pat…'re deluding yourself. In addition to many historical incidences of same-sex marriage– really, kind of irrelevant here because you don't read history and consider religious scripture an accurate historical record, which it isn't–marriage has already been "redefined" to include same-sex couples in the U.S. (maybe you've heard of a little place called "Massachusetts?") We're fighting to make that everybody's right, everywhere, and you can't do a thing about it. Oh, and Pat? People are also allowed in this country to get married if they can't or don't want to procreate, and to have sex just for fun whether they're married or not. Maybe you should try it sometime, you might be a little less tense and hateful.

    As for "why just two people", polygamy is unlawful because it's abusive to women and children. Same-sex marriage is neither.

    The bigger question is, why are you And your kind so obsessed with sex, specifically gay sex and polygamy? (pssst…the answer is: you're closeted, misogynistic, or just perverse.)

  • 8. Sam_Handwich  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

    A marriage license does not require procreation, nor does procreation require a marriage license. Any idiots can procreate … and they most certainly do. Furthermore, many of those procreative products wind up being raised by adoptive couples, some of which are same-sex couples whose families deserve the same legal protections marriage affords.

  • 9. Steve  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:50 am

    There have been cultures throughout history that had legally or socially recognized same-sex marriages as well as polygamy. In fact polygyny has been the norm for much of history in many societies.

    There is really nothing wrong with polyamory in of itself. But polygyny as practiced by patriarchal, religious cultures is very harmful to women. It's also harmful to society since it leads to a lack of marriageable women, drives up the price for the remaining women, leads to younger and younger women being married and increases the violence among men.

    There is also the simple fact that family law is already written with two people in mind. Making it gender neutral isn't much of a problem at all. Accounting for more than two partners is a nightmare and may be impossible

  • 10. peterplumber  |  November 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    If marriage were really about procreation, than polygamy would be the best option! One man can make many children with many wives, but children have to come one at a time if a man has only one wife.

  • 11. shelostcontro1  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    You dominionists keep clutching to long dead mores. Marriage is the union of two consenting adults who love each other. Procreation is completely optional. Religion is completely optional. How do you think atheists get married?

  • 12. TPAKyle  |  November 13, 2011 at 5:11 am

    Morey: You ARE the father! (that kind of procreation?)

  • 13. MightyAcorn  |  November 13, 2011 at 7:36 am

    …or maybe Darth: "Luke I am your father" kind of procreation! The kind that could end the Universe! Those heteros should just stop it!!! It's dangerous!!!

  • 14. David X  |  November 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Congress redefined civil marriage when they passed DOMA. Who could and could not marry was left up to the states to define until that time.

  • 15. Sam_Handwich  |  November 12, 2011 at 7:46 am

    I'm a native Rhode Islander, living now in nearby Mass, where i was married this summer.

    I've said it before and i'll say it again: the Rhode Island marriage equality proponents have lacked visibility, creativity and general organizational skills.

    “If there is no struggle, there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them…. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Frederick Douglas

  • 16. Jacob Combs  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Sam, I couldn't agree with you more. What we need in RI is a top-down strategy like the one Gov. Cuomo deployed in New York. I was hoping that Chafee would be the one to do so (especially given his promising call for marriage equality when he was inaugurated), but so far, he's been too hands off about pushing for a change in the state. Still, I think many marriage equality organizations in other states are looking at the strategy that worked in NY and adapting it to their specific need–at least I hope so!

  • 17. Sam_Handwich  |  November 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Jacob….We had no "top down" strategy here in Mass. Mitt Romney was the governor for most of the time. It was a "bottom up" grassroots effort to prevent a constitutional amendment from getting on the ballot. (Granted, it's a different set of circumstances in RI…but i still think it's a better model for RI than New York)

    During the summer of 2010, when NOM rolled through Providence with its Hate Bus Tour, my partner and i attended a counter-rally at the RI state house. It was organized not by MERI, or HRC, but by a rag-tag group called something like Queer RI. There was NO VISIBLE PRESENCE from MERI, which calls itself "lead organization in the fight for equal marriage".

    You can't simple sit in a cubicle and issue an occasional tweet or blog posting….you need to ORGANIZE, MAKE NOISE, AGITATE and most of all create visibility.

  • 18. Ann S.  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:00 am


  • 19. Ronnie  |  November 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    ; ) …. Ronnie

  • 20. dsc77  |  November 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Rhode Island is not the only New England state without marriage-equality. Maine also does not have marriage equality. In fact, we don't even have a law that allows civil unions-only the woefully inadequate domestic partnership law that deals with matters of illness and death.

    Dave in Maine

  • 21. be4marriage  |  November 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Not exactly true. Rhode Island recognizes all marriages performed in other states.

  • 22. Bill S.  |  November 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

    This is not true. A former attorney general issued an advisory opinion saying that RI *may* be able to recognize out-of-state marriages, but nothing has come of this. Furthermore, the RI Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex married couples do not have access to RI family courts, and they cannot receive a divorce.

  • 23. Jacob Combs  |  November 12, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for pointing that out, Dave. I just updated the post to make that clearer!

  • 24. Ray in MA  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

    A big affair in a small state:

    Are they returning a favor to the governor, or vice versa?

  • 25. Fr. Bill  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Aloha mai kakou. Here in Hawai'i the civil unions bill was fought tooth and nail by the Evangelicals, Mormons (behind the scenes this time) and the Roman Catholics (with the RC Bishop in full pontifical attire in the State Capitol building for a photo op). We are a culture that is adverse to confrontation and conflict and, while terribly religious, is highly respectful of spiritual and religious practices. The civil unions bill passed only to be vetoed by Republican Governor Linda Lingle (now running for US Senate). Her Democtratic successor signed a similar civil unions bill which goes into effect January 1st.

    The role of religious bodies in this fight against marriage equality cannot be overstated. The Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops will gather this week under it's president, Archbishop Dolan – a jovial but rabid conservative. They will plot a strategy to oppose marriage equality and apparently will add yet another untruth to the "redefining marriage" mantra. This will be the "protect religious freedom " untruth. We should be very much on this religious push. I note that Dolan's predecessor as head of the US Conference of Bishops paid a call on Brigham Young University – a most unusal thing.

  • 26. Fr. Bill  |  November 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

    OOP meant not terribly religious

  • 27. jpmassar  |  November 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Only 14 couples have applied for civil unions in the last five months, a number dwarfed by the number of gay couples who applied to marry on the first day alone when New York began issuing marriage licenses in July.

    Uh, might the relative populations of NY and RI have something to do with that? You should do comparisons like this per capita.

  • 28. Steve  |  November 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Even with the smaller population taken into account, the number should be A LOT higher. I've seen them somewhere, compared to several other states.

    The fact that Rhode Island recognized out-of-state same-sex marriage, coupled with the ridiculously wide ranging "religious exemptions", means that there is really little reason to get a Civil Union there

  • 29. truthspew  |  November 12, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I wonder why WPRI feels the need to hear from NOM. Plante is a whore, no doubt about it. He'll go where the money is.

    That said, I am highly disgusted that with an openly gay Speaker we couldn't get marriage equality.

    And to those who say we are highly religious, guess again. The last ARIS study found < 50% of us were Catholic.

    And about 20% of us are atheist.

    And I can tell you, if I ever see the Bishop on the street I'm going to smack him. I don't care about the assault and battery charge that will follow, because it would be so sweet to take the bastard down.

  • 30. Prop 8 Trial Tracker &raq&hellip  |  January 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    […] written before on this site about my frustration that Rhode Island (a state I adopted as my own during my four […]

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