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Same sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in Rhode Island

2007: Reactions to the AG's statement
on SSM recognition. A divorce case

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Reactions to the 2007 letter:

bullet The Family Research Council criticized Lynch severely for his decision to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages:

"This abuse of power should sound the alarm for Rhode Island's pro-family voters and spark a movement to introduce a marriage protection amendment so that the state's position on marriage is no longer in doubt." 1

bullet Emily Sack, associate professor of law at Roger Williams University's law school, said:

"Rhode Island's on the front line now, but the issue will become more prevalent in other states in the coming years as same-sex couples married in Massachusetts move to other regions. When that happens, the states will likely turn to legal precedent, such as Lynch's opinion, which is the first of its kind, for guidance."

bullet Michele Granda, a staff attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), a legal-rights group active throughout New England, expects most government agencies will follow Lynch's interpretation. She hailed his ruling, saying:

"It's always good news when there is no gay exception to fairness. ... The attorney general catalogues that policy now and it's all in favor of treating same-sex couples like heterosexual couples. If anything, the legislature is moving toward equality, not against it. ... I haven't seen a credible reason for denying recognition -- other than 'I don't like same-sex couples' -- which could run afoul of the state's nondiscrimination laws."

On the GLAD website, Granda wrote:

"We applaud Attorney General Lynch for refusing to make a 'gay exception' to well-established principles of law. His leadership on this issue brings peace of mind to married couples and clear direction to their employers." 27 

bullet Jenn Steinfeld is the director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) a group promoting marriage equality in Rhode Island. She was also pleased with Lynch's ruling, stating:

"This statement is wonderful news for the state employees, who are now clear on the protections their families will receive. We expect to see other Rhode Island employers following suit, and fully recognizing employees married to same-sex spouses."

"Attorney General Lynch has shown leadership in standing up for the well-established principles of comity law, and in refusing to make an exception for same-sex couples. This statement provides clear direction for Rhode Island employers, and offers married same-sex couples some resolution as to how their relationships will be recognized in Rhode Island." 3

On another occasion, Steinfeld again praised Lynch's opinion. She feels that his decision will affect dozens of same-sex couples. She said:

"I'm feeling really excited. We certainly applaud [Lynch's] stance here. We applaud him going through Rhode Island law and ... recognizing that there is no strong public policy against recognizing same-sex marriages." 4

bullet We expected to add responses later from social and religious conservatives who objected to marriage equality in Rhode Island. We were only been able to detect a single response -- from the FRC.

2007-FEB: A SSM divorce case:

Marriages among same-sex couples may be more stable that opposite-sex marriages. At least, that is the probable situation in Canada, where the very first same-sex divorce in that country was requested by a lesbian couple in 2004-SEP -- some 14 months after marriages were first legalized in that country, and after many thousands of SSMs had been solemnized.

A SSM breakdown happened in Rhode Island: a same-sex couple resident in the state applied for a divorce. The two women in Providence, RI had married in Fall River, MA and suffered a marriage breakdown. Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. had asked the state's Supreme Court whether his court has jurisdiction to hear this divorce case. The higher court responded by ruling that the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause is relevant to the case, while the relevance of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in which the Federal Government refuses to recognize SSM, is 'minimal at best'."

When asked what impact Lynch's opinion might have on the same-sex divorce case, Michele Granda of GLAD said:

"The Supreme Court is going to have to address this question on its own, but the attorney general's legal opinion is persuasive authority." 4


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. " 'Rhode' Rage: Ocean State Recognizes Mass. Gay Marriages," Washington Update, Family Research Council, 2007-FEB-23.
  2. "GLAD Applauds Rhode Island Attorney General for Strong Statement Recognizing Same-Sex Marriages," GLAD, 2007-FEB-21, at:
  3. "Lynch: RI Will Recognize Same Sex Marriages from Mass," Rhode Island's Future, 2007-FEB-21, at:
  4. Edward Fitzpatrick and Steve Peoples, "Lynch: R.I. to recognize Mass. gay marriages," 2007-FEB-22, at:

Copyright 2007 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2007-FEB-24
Latest update: 2009-MAY-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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