A new report from the ACLU of Rhode Island declares that the state’s new civil unions law, which took effect over the summer, is a complete “bust.” Primary reasons for this diagnosis include broad religious exemptions that undermine the unions’ value, the availability of marriage equality in all the surrounding states, and twelve years of anticipation for full marriage equality:
Rhode Island’s civil union law, enacted over the strong protests of the community it was designed to benefit, has been a fiasco. In the first two months of its enactment, only fourteen gay and lesbian couples have taken advantage of the statute to obtain “civil union” status. No other state that has passed a law formally recognizing gay and lesbian couples has seen such a paltry and lackluster response to its passage… The lesson is clear: if Rhode Island is serious about recognizing the status of lesbian and gay couples, full marriage equality is the only appropriate response, and one that the General Assembly must take up.
The study compares Rhode Island’s new civil unions law to that of Illinois’, which also took effect this summer. Accounting for population differences, Illinois had fifteen times more civil unions in its first month than Rhode Island.
As ThinkProgress reported before it was enacted, the law takes such broad measures to allow religious institutions to disregard the unions that it essentially invites discrimination against same-sex couples. Conversely, Illinois’ law makes no such exceptions, and the state has ended contracts with Catholic Charities that are unwilling to provide adoption services to same-sex couples. Rhode Island’s law also dictates that marriages from out of state be reduced to civil union status, unions that are not only separate, but unequal. That anyone thought this “compromise” was an advance for same-sex couples in Rhode Island need only look at the couples who found the unions to be meaningful — all 14 of them.