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Nine Civil Unions in Rhode Island in July

Nine Civil Unions in Rhode Island in July


Only nine couples took advantage of the new Rhode Island civil unions law in its first month, a small number that sparks competing interpretations from marriage equality advocates and opponents.

The Associated Press obtained numbers on Monday that showed nine couples entered into civil unions in July, the first month that the new law was in effect, granting same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples under state law. Even for Rhode Island, the smallest state by land area with a population of 1 million people, the tally seems surprisingly tiny, and marriage equality advocates said it proves their point that civil unions are a "poor substitute."

Spokespeople for groups such as Marriage Equality Rhode Island argue that passage of marriage equality legislation would have generated more excitement and response. More than 800 couples registered for a lottery in New York City to be among the first to marry on the day the marriage equality law took effect in New York last month.

Marriage equality opponents, meanwhile, argue that the low level of participation shows that advocates are focused on the "marriage label" rather than the rights that civil unions bring, the AP reports. However, the civil unions terminology has proved inadequate in other states such as New Jersey, and the law in Rhode Island contains religious exemptions that advocates protested as overly broad before Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed the bill last month.

Advocates have vowed to push for the marriage equality legislation again in next year's legislative session. Such a proposal failed to advance this year because of inadequate support, and lawmakers including Gordon Fox, the gay speaker of the Rhode Island House, took up civil unions as a compromise solution.

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