PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s governor on Monday declared that the state will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, giving gay couples the same rights as heterosexual ones when it comes to health insurance and a slew of other benefits.
The order signed by Gov. Lincoln Chafee in a Statehouse ceremony directs state agencies to recognize marriages performed out of state as legal and treat same-sex married couples the same as heterosexual ones.
Some gay couples married outside Rhode Island — where civil unions are allowed, but gay marriage is illegal — have not been afforded certain rights because state law is not clear on the subject.
In 2007, then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion in favor of recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, but it was nonbinding. Chafee said his signing of the executive order is “following through” on that opinion.
The executive order is expected to have many real-world implications. Same-sex spouses of state employees and anyone covered by an insurance company regulated in Rhode Island will be entitled to health and life insurance benefits, gay rights advocates say.
Both partners in a same-sex couple will be able to list their names as parents on a child’s birth certificate, and same-sex couples will be entitled to sales tax exemptions on the transfer of property including vehicles.
One couple who attended the signing ceremony — married in neighboring Massachusetts — described their disappointment of not being able to list both their names on their son’s birth certificate.
“For our next child, we won’t have to go through the same kind of turmoil,” Martha Holt Castle said.
Ray Sullivan, executive director of the group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which supports gay marriage, called the executive order “significant” and “bold.”
“It’s important because all families deserve equal protection and recognition under the law,” he said. “Gov. Chafee, by doing this today, is affirming that idea.”
Sullivan said that because there hasn’t been clarity on whether the state recognizes gay marriages performed elsewhere, some state agencies “haven’t done the right thing.”
Chafee called his order an important step but said he would continue to press for Rhode Island to enact gay marriage.
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