As soon as Judi and Lee McNeil-Beckwith got word that the Rhode Island attorney general believes the state would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, they cried, hugged, and excitedly called friends and family. Then they jumped in the car.
"We've wanted to get married, but we didn't want an empty piece of paper. We needed the attorney general on our side," Lee, 40, said Monday evening, just hours after returning from Worcester, Mass., where she and Judi, her partner of seven years, applied for a marriage license.
"We just wanted to take the first step as soon as we could," said Judi, 52, holding a fresh bouquet of yellow daisies. The couple, who live in Providence, changed their names a few years ago when they bought a house together.
Rhode Island attorney general Patrick Lynch said that under his interpretation, the state would recognize any marriage legally performed in another state, as long as the marriage wasn't contrary to public policy.
Lee and Judi saw Lynch's statement as a green light to cross the state line and apply for a license, over objections from Rhode Island governor Don Carcieri, who opposes gay marriage and has been advising gay couples to wait. "I came out 21 years ago, and I never thought this day would happen," said Lee. "I needed to take advantage of the historic moment."
In his opinion, Lynch said courts or the general assembly would determine whether same-sex marriage was contrary to public policy. He also left it to the courts to decide whether same-sex marriages can be legally performed in Rhode Island.
He said that to date, the only marriages that are void in Rhode Island are those involving bigamy, incest, or mental incompetence or marriages in which one or both parties never intended to be married. Rhode Island is one of seven states in which the statutes make no specific reference to gender in their marriage laws but also do not affirmatively allow gay marriage. Lynch advised same-sex couples in Rhode Island to consult with a private attorney before seeking marriage licenses in Massachusetts. Legal analysts told the Associated Press that Lynch's opinion is strictly advisory and that the issue would ultimately be decided by the courts.
Rhode Island lawmakers also are considering opposing bills on same-sex marriages. One would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, while another would legalize same-sex marriages and recognize such unions performed in another state.
Upon returning to Rhode Island from Worcester City Hall, the McNeil-Beckwiths joined nearly 100 supporters of same-sex marriage in a Providence park for a celebration of the Massachusetts nuptials. In between cheers and music, the jubilant crowd--some wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "I do" and "Civil marriage, civil rights"--raised plastic champagne glasses and toasted their northern neighbors. "We wish them long and happy lives together," said Chris Butler, a representative of the Campaign for Marriage Equality. "This is a very special day."