On July 2nd, 2011 Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee signed a civil unions bill extending “reciprocal benefits” to same-sex couples including new state tax breaks, health-care benefits and inheritance rights. But even still only nine gay couples have signed up for civil unions during the month of July. Compare that to the hundreds of gay couples that got married in New York as soon as it became available. What’s goin’ on in the Ocean State?
You may remember that in the bitter battle to pass civil unions legislation in Rhode Island earlier this year, that lawmakers scored a lukewarm compromise by offering kinda-sorta not-full civil unions that even mothers and sons could legally enter into. The gay side got to claim a symbolic victory and the anti-gay side got to stop full civil unions which they see as a “Trojan Horse” for gay marriage.
According to Dawn Euer, a spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, “If it had been marriage people would have been lining up. People are holding out for marriage. They want true equality, not a made-up, bureaucratic, second-class status.”
But Democratic Representative Peter Petrarca says that we need more than just one month to know just how many couples will partake.
Bill Fischer with Marriage Equality Rhode Island elaborated on just how little the bill does:
“Reciprocal benefits would provide same-sex couples with approximately 15 rights, [while civil unions provide same-sex couples] with about 600 rights, and full marriage equality with about 1,700 rights, so there is a real distinction. We respect the legislative sponsor’s intent here, but the further we go down the road trying to address this issue by issue, the further we are creating two classes of citizens in Rhode Island.”
It’s true that Rhode Island has suck-tastic civil unions. In fact, Illinois, New Jersey, Hawaii and Delaware all have civil union laws that offer more rights than the Rhode Island compromise. That fishy smell in the Ocean State, isn’t the coastline, folks.