Answers to frequently asked questions for Rhode Island same-sex couples considering marriage.
Can same-sex couples marry in Rhode Island?
No. Since March 1997, advocates have introduced bills in the Rhode Island General Assembly to extend marriage to include same-sex couples. In 2011, the General Assembly passed an inadequate, and flawed civil union bill designed to offer the state-level benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage. We recommend consulting with an attorney before entering in to a civil union since in some cases you may be better protected by private legal contracts than by this legislation.
Many religious faiths in Rhode Island do perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples within the tenants of their faith. These marriages are currently not recognized by the state of Rhode Island.
Can Rhode Island same-sex couples marry in other locations?
Yes. Currently, Rhode Island couples can marry in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and New York as well as the District of Columbia. Although this is great news, it is still a complicated issue about whether these marriages will be respected in Rhode Island.
In 2007, Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued a six-page legal opinion saying that the state will recognize marriages between couples of the same sex performed in Massachusetts. While this opinion only directly affects state employees, it has ramifications for how other employers will recognize marriages between same-sex spouses performed elsewhere. At this time, we believe that this opinion pertains to marriages that are entered into in all other states that have marriage equality.
For more information please see GLAD’s publication, Marrying in Massachusetts: A Guide for Rhode Island Same-Sex Couples (PDF).
New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii and Delaware offer residents the opportunity to enter into a civil union. California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Washington all offer some form or domestic partnership rights to same-sex couples.
Are there other ways that Rhode Island same-sex couples can obtain legal recognition?
Couples can enter into civil unions in New Jersey and New Hampshire and can register as domestic partners in California and Oregon. This provides couples with a legal status equivalent to a civilly married couple in that state, but it is unclear how those unions would be viewed in Rhode Island.
If my partner and I marry, will our marriage be respected in Rhode Island?
Even though Rhode Island presently does not allow same-sex couples to marry in Rhode Island, there are good reasons to think that a valid marriage will be respected in Rhode Island once the couple returns home. As Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch stated in a legal opinion in February 2007, Rhode Island follows the long-standing legal tradition that states respect marriages legally celebrated in other jurisdictions unless the marriage runs contrary to a strong public policy of the state. Thus far, for the most part, public and private entities in Rhode Island have respected the valid marriages of same-sex couples.
For a detailed discussion of some of the issues that Rhode Island same-sex couples should consider before marrying, and the recognition they can expect when they return to Rhode Island, see GLAD’s publications, Marrying in Massachusetts: A Guide for Rhode Island Same-Sex Couples, and Rhode Island Married Same-Sex Couples: Advocating for Yourself in the Workplace.
What protection will we gain if we get a civil union or comprehensive state domestic partnership?
We hope civil unions and comprehensive state domestic partnerships will provide many protections, but states are just beginning to decide how to treat these relationships. Civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships are intended to be parallel to civil marriage in all respects under state law. So we think they should be treated like marriages for all state law purposes, but it will take time for that state of affairs to evolve in Rhode Island.