Same sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in Rhode Island
2007: Attorney General issues
statement on SSM recognition
2007-FEB-21: RI Attorney General issues a subsequent statement:
The Associated Press also reported that:
"Rhode Island is one of a few states that neither
allow nor specifically bar same-sex unions. Several legislative attempts to
ban or legalize gay marriage have failed there in recent years." 1
The state Board of Governors for Higher Education
received requests from three homosexual employees who asked that their
personnel files be changed to indicate their status as "married." Wendy Becker,
a professor at Rhode Island College, is one of these employees. She said:
"It's the truth. We were married in Massachusetts
and we wanted the status to be listed as something that is true."
The Board then asked Rhode Island
Attorney General Patrick Lynch to issue a ruling concerning whether same-sex
marriages should be recognized if they involve residents of Rhode Island and are
performed in another state.
Lynch issued a six page letter concerning same-sex marriage on FEB-21.
2 He noted that Rhode Island:
|Has not specifically banned gay marriage. |
|Has legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sexual
|Has extended health insurance to same-sex domestic partners of state
Thus, Lynch concluded, there is "no reason to deny recognition" of gay
unions. He wrote:
"Rhode Island will recognize same sex marriages
lawfully performed in Massachusetts
as marriages in Rhode Island."
He based his report, in part, on a state Supreme Court ruling of 1904. It
said that Rhode Island considers a marriage performed in another state to be
valid, unless the marriage was:
"odious by the common consent of nations, or
if its influence is thought dangerous to the fabric of society, so that it
is strongly against the public policy of the jurisdiction."
Lynch noted that this is a "fairly narrow"
exception. He said that:
"The only marriages declared contrary to
public policy [and thus void] in Rhode Island are bigamous marriages,
incestuous marriages and marriages between two mentally incompetent persons.
... While Rhode Island law does not affirmatively recognize same-sex
marriages, it does state an affirmative policy of preventing discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation in, among other areas, public
accommodations, employment, credit, housing and home health care. ... Taken
together, these favorable conditions support the argument that Rhode Island
does not have a strong public policy against
homosexuals or same-sex relationships. It is our opinion, based on all
of the foregoing, that whether based on Full Faith and Credit or on
principles of comity, Rhode Island will recognize same-sex marriages
lawfully performed in Massachusetts as marriages in Rhode Island."
Definition of "Full Faith and
An essay on Wikipedia
"The phrase "Full Faith and Credit Clause" refers to Article IV,
Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States of America, which reads:
'Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public
acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the
Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts,
records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect there of'."
"The clause was primarily intended to provide for comity between states
and enforcement across state lines of non-federal laws, civil claims and
court rulings. Without this clause, enforcement of state-to-state
extradition, portability of court orders, nationwide recognition of legal
status, out-of-state taxation, spousal and child support, and the collection
of fees and fines would all be impossible without separate federal action,
or a similar action by the other states." 4
In this case, the clause might be interpreted as requiring states to
recognize marriages of couples that were solemnized in other states. However,
the applicability of this clause from the Constitution has not yet been the
topic of a same-sex marriage lawsuit.
Lynch noted that the
Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
"... does not affect
our analysis both because it cannot be an expression of Rhode Island law and
because it merely allows a State to accept or reject a same sex marriage
performed in another jurisdiction."
Lynch's statement implies that the regular set of state benefits, obligations
and rights routinely given to opposite-sex married couples by the state of Rhode
Island will be given to same-sex partners as well. However. the over 1,000
federal marriage benefits are denied them because of DOMA. Rhode Island is the first state to
take this major step of recognizing Massachusetts' same-sex marriages.
He said that the report is an advisory opinion; it is not binding. The board
and other state agencies can disregard it. He said: "It's essentially
guidance. It's my interpretation of the law."
During an interview, Lynch said:
"Couples were presenting themselves who had
been married validly in Massachusetts and were trying to live and work and
prosper in Rhode Island. I felt I had a duty and obligation to respond and
to not sit idly by while basic human rights are denied that are available to
any other couple in Rhode Island. Nothing in law, policy or the Constitution
denies that." 3
The Family Research Council (FRC), a fundamentalist Christian group
that opposes equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and same-sex couples,
speculated that Lynch's attendance at the same-sex wedding of his sister in
Massachusetts earlier in 2007-FEB might have had an
influence on his ruling. He denied this, saying that his family situation had "zero
impact" on is legal decision. 5
In issuing his ruling, he stated that "he felt
compelled to issue an opinion that dealt with basic human rights."
Mr. Maurano said that the
Board of Governors for Higher Education
would abide by the attorney general's opinion. He said:
"We asked for the
opinion. So now that we have the opinion, it's probably incumbent for us to
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Ray Henry, "R.I. may recognize gay unions from Mass.," Associated Press,
- Patrick C. Lynch, Letter to Commissioner Jack R. Warner, Department of
the Attorney General, 2007-FEB-20, at:
http://rifuture.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
- Edward Fitzpatrick and Steve Peoples, "Lynch: R.I. to recognize Mass. gay
marriages," 2007-FEB-22, at:
- "Comity," Wikipedia, at:
- " 'Rhode' Rage: Ocean State Recognizes Mass. Gay Marriages," Washington
Update, Family Research Council, 2007-FEB-23.
Copyright © 2007
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-24
Latest update: 2009-MAY-05
Author: B.A. Robinson