PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) - If a pair of gay men or a pair of lesbians get married in a state that allows it, the State of Rhode Island will now recognize them as a married couple, under the law.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order Monday afternoon calling for Rhode Island to recognize same-sex marriages done out-of-state. Therefore, a couple that got married in New Hampshire or Massachusetts, for example, will be recognized as married by the state of Rhode Island, receiving the same state benefits as heterosexual couples.
The Governor's State Room was nearly filled with onlookers for the occasion.
Right now, the state allows gay and lesbian couples to get civil unions. However, the bill that legalized those unions contains several exemptions; including that any organization affiliated with religion, such schools, universities and hospitals can deny recognition of civil union spouses -- such as denying a partner access to an emergency room where his or her partner is receiving treatment.
In 2007, then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion in favor of recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, but it was non-binding. Gov. Chafee said his signing of the executive order is "following through" on that opinion.
"Far too many Rhode Island couples have encountered problems with the state failing to consistently recognize the validity of their marriage, causing unnecessary difficulty, anxiety, and expense. This executive order sends a clear message to married Rhode Islanders, regardless of their sexual orientation, that they can and should rely on their marriage to protect them and their families in important ways," said Gov. Chafee.
Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts issued a statement reading, "As I have said for many years, I support full marriage equality for lesbian and gay Rhode Islanders. I applaud the Governor's decision to affirm the legal recognition of marriages entered into in other states. It is an issue of basic fairness and equality."
Most local gay and lesbian advocacy groups, such as Marriage Equality Rhode Island, are in favor of giving the same marriage rights heterosexual couples receive to same-sex couples, rather than civil unions, whose rights generally are regarded as different.
"Despite long-standing Rhode Island law respecting out-of-state marriages, the fact is that far too many same-sex couples have encountered problems with the state refusing to recognize the validity of their marriage, causing harm, confusion, unnecessary expense, and heartache. This executive order will go a long way towards eliminating those problems, and makes it clear that there is no longer a gay exemption to the kind of protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide," said MERI.
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