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Rhode Island to Recognize States’ Same-Sex Marriages

by Joe Siegel
Contributor
Tuesday May 15, 2012
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The State of Rhode Island will now officially recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states as the result of an Executive Order signed Monday, May 14, by Governor Lincoln Chafee (I).

The news was greeted with thunderous cheers and applause from marriage equality activists and supporters at a packed State House press conference.

"Today, I am signing Executive Order 12-02 to make it clear that Rhode Island recognizes and respects out-of-state same-sex marriages," Chafee said. "Despite long-standing Rhode Island law respecting out-of-state marriages, and a formal 2007 opinion from the Attorney General, there remains confusion and inconsistency within state departments and agencies regarding the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages."

Chafee noted that "far too many Rhode Island couples have encountered problems with the state failing to consistently recognize the validity of their marriage, causing unnecessary difficulty, anxiety, and expense."

Also present at the signing ceremony was Deb Tevyaw, the widow of Pat Baker, a longtime state corrections officer who passed away last August after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She spent the last months of her life lobbying members of the General Assembly to pass marriage equality. Tevyaw and Baker were married for six years.

After Baker died, Tevyaw received a death certificate from the Department of Health that was inaccurate -- it listed Baker as not being married and only included Tevyaw as being the "source of information" relative to Pat’s passing. Tevyaw also experienced difficulty at the state DMV when trying to transfer the title of her car she and Baker owned, which had been registered under Baker’s name.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), who advocated on her behalf to the governor’s office, represented Baker. Eventually the death certificate was corrected and the transfer was allowed to go through.

Same-sex marriage activists applauded Chafee’s action.

"This is a great and historic day for Rhode Island," read a statement from Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), which applauded Chafee for becoming the first governor in the country to sign an executive order providing critical clarity and direction to government agencies regarding the recognition of same-sex, out-of-state marriages. "This executive order will go a long way towards eliminating those problems, and makes it clear that there is no longer a gay exemption to the kind of protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide."

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. But rather than continuing to address the issue on a case-by-case basis, this provides comprehensive recognition for the marriages of same-sex couples by public agencies in Rhode Island.

"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," said Karen L. Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney with GLAD, who worked with the Governor’s office on the order.

According to GLAD, 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 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," said Karen L. Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney with GLAD.

Same-sex marriage opponents blasted Chafee for his decision.

Christopher Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage’s Rhode Island chapter, said on Monday that Governor Chafee’s executive order directing state agencies to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages flouts "the will of the legislature and of the people."

The General Assembly took up same-sex marriage last year and did not pursue it, and the issue appears to have been tabled this year, Plante said. "What’s clear is this," he said. "Whenever the governor doesn’t get his way, he chooses to thumb his nose at the democratic process."

Gay State Representative Frank Ferri (D-Warwick), who married his husband Tony Caparco in Canada in 2006, believes Chafee’s action will boost the chances of passing marriage equality legislation.

"It’s another step forward," Ferri noted.

"Marriage Equality will happen in Rhode Island someday," said Jim Vegher of Providence. Vegher and his husband John Grigsby have been together for more than 30 years and were present at the signing ceremony.

"At our ages, this action has certainly made us feel more protected in RI," Vegher said. "We were anticipating having to move out of state to a place that would treat us as a married couple so, as we got older, our ability to care for each other would have the same protections as heterosexual couples."

In July 2011, Chafee signed a civil union bill into law. A marriage equality bill had been introduced, but openly gay Speaker Gordon Fox withdrew it after he said there were not enough votes for it to pass. Although Democrats control both chambers, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed (D-Newport) opposes gay marriage.

On May 2, the House Judiciary Committee listened to testimony regarding three LGBT rights bills, including a same-sex marriage bill.

Another bill, known as The Equal Religious Protection Act, calls for the repeal of the Corvese amendment attached to the civil union law. The third bill was The Equal Access to Family Court Act, which will allow same-sex couples who married out of state to obtain divorces in the state courts. There was no vote on any of the bills, which were held for further study.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) has been leading the fight to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Ocean State for the past eight years.

Members of the General Assembly have introduced a same-sex marriage bill every year since 1997. The bills have never made it out of their respective committees for a vote.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2012-05-15 17:35:35

    I’m so happy for you folks. You may be the smallest state, but you’ve got more courage and bigger balls than TX. :)


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