The RI ACLU reported today that, after six months, “an embarrassingly small number of couples” – only forty-six – have taken advantage of Rhode Island’s civil union law, which was enacted over the strong protests of the state’s gay and lesbian community. Those figures contrast sharply with newly-released data from Delaware and Hawaii, states with similar populations to Rhode Island, and which implemented their own civil union laws last month. In the first month of those laws, Hawaii reported the issuance of at least 106 civil union licenses, and Delaware reported more than 85. Meanwhile, in Rhode Island, only seven couples obtained civil union licenses in November and December, including just one for the entire month of December. Those numbers remain far behind any other state with civil union, marriage or domestic partnership laws.
Following up on a detailed report it issued last September, RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today that the latest statistics show that the state’s civil union law is “virtually useless and continues to highlight the need for passage of true marriage equality legislation.” The ACLU’s September report examined twelve other states that in recent years had enacted marriage, civil union or domestic partnership legislation for gay and lesbian couples. The report noted that the initial rate of license issuances in those states, adjusting for population, often exceeded Rhode Island’s rate by a factor of tenfold or more. In Illinois, for example, the only other state that implemented a civil union law in 2011, over 1,600 licenses were issued in the first month alone. Meanwhile, in this month alone, Washington State enacted marriage legislation, New Jersey approved a marriage bill, though it was vetoed by the Governor, and Maryland is close to enacting a marrikage law as well.
The ACLU report had cited a number of reasons why Rhode Island’s statute was being shunned by couples, including the presence of an extremely broad “religious” exemption, known as the “Corvese Amendment,” that significantly undercuts the law’s purpose. The ACLU’s Brown said today: “The latest statistics make abundantly clear that Rhode Island’s law is a textbook example of how not to treat gay and lesbian partnerships. Not only have three states in the past year adopted much more meaningful and stronger civil union laws, but adoption of new marriage laws in New York and Washington are placing Rhode Island even farther behind the times. Rhode Island must join its New England neighbors and provide true marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples before our law becomes even more of an embarrassment.”