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Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Governor, Declares State Will Recognize Out-Of-State Gay Marriages

By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI 05/14/12 06:25 PM ET AP

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — 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.

Speaking to an audience that included many gay married couples who cheered loudly when Chafee entered the room, Martha Holt Castle described the disappointment that she and her wife, Patricia, felt when they weren't able to list both their names on their son's birth certificate when Martha gave birth to him in 2010. They were married in neighboring Massachusetts.

"I was devastated," she told The Associated Press before the ceremony. She said Patricia ultimately became the boy's legal parent through what's known as a second-parent adoption.

"For our next child, we won't have to go through the same kind of turmoil," she said.

Six states – all in the Northeast except for Iowa – and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Thirty states have adopted a ban on it.

A spokesman for the state chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said in a statement that his group is deeply concerned about Chafee's action.

"To issue an executive order recognizing same-sex marriage flies in the face of the clearly expressed actions of the legislature and the people," said Christopher C. Plante, regional coordinator for the group.

Fierce opposition from some people last year prompted the Legislature to abandon a bill that would have legalized gay marriage and approve civil unions instead. Plante also said it appears Chafee is trying to override a 2007 high court ruling that a lesbian couple married in Massachusetts could not get divorced in Rhode Island because state law only contemplated divorce between a husband and wife.

Ray Sullivan, campaign 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.

"We're overdue, way overdue," he said.

Chafee said President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he now supports gay marriage is positive momentum. But he said he did not expect gay marriage to pass in Rhode Island this legislative session.

Here are some reactions to President Barack Obama announcing his support for gay marriage:
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  • Mitt Romney

    "I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Mitt Romney said.

  • Kyrsten Sinema

  • Daniel O'Donnell

  • Kirsten Gillibrand

  • Jeff Merkley

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Michael Bloomberg

    "This is a major turning point in the history of American civil rights," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people - and I have no doubt that this will be no exception. The march of freedom that has sustained our country since the Revolution of 1776 continues, and no matter what setbacks may occur in a given state, freedom will triumph over fear and equality will prevail over exclusion. Today's announcement is a testament to the President's convictions, and it builds on the courageous stands that so many Americans have taken over the years on behalf of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans, stretching back to the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village."

  • Jerrold Nadler

    "I applaud President Obama for announcing his support for marriage equality today," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "For the first time in this nation's history, a sitting president has shown the courage and leadership to stand up for all American families by pledging to support the fundamental right of every person to marry the person they love, and to have that marriage fully respected. I commend President Obama for this brave and honest step. Those who seek to politicize civil rights for personal or political gain will certainly attack him, but the course toward marriage equality and justice is the correct and inevitable path."

  • Brad Lander

  • Fred Karger

    "I'm thrilled!" longshot GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger told HuffPost, referring to Obama's embrace of marriage equality. Karger is the first openly gay Republican or Democrat to run for president. "The Karger pressure has worked," he joked. "Particularly after the defeat in North Carolina, we welcome him to the full equality position."

  • Vince Gray

  • Martin O'Malley

  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen

  • Barack Obama

  • Mark Udall

  • Senator Chris Coons

  • Rep.George Miller

  • Jim Himes

  • Nancy Pelosi

  • Nita Lowey

    "I have been blessed to have a long and happy marriage. I strongly believe all Americans deserve that same opportunity," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)

  • Antonio Villaraigosa

  • Jackie Speier

  • Michael Steele

  • Dennis Kucinich

  • John Brunner

  • Cory Booker

  • Chris Gregoire

  • Fred Karger

  • Ted Strickland

  • Jared Polis

  • Reince Priebus

    "While President Obama has played politics on this issue, the Republican Party and our presumptive nominee Mitt Romney have been clear. We support maintaining marriage between one man and one woman and would oppose any attempts to change that," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

  • Debbie Wasserman Schultz

  • Chellie Pingree

  • Christine C. Quinn

  • Mike Huckabee

    "Barack Obama just announced he supports same-sex marriage," Mike Huckabee wrote in a fundraising appeal to supporters. "Nancy Pelosi immediately jumped on the announcement and emailed Democrat activists nationwide promising to continue their fight. This is going to be a defining issue this election. Obama, Pelosi and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base. Well, Mr. President it's going to rile up our folks also. Men and women who support traditional marriage."

  • Rep. Bill Taylor

  • Deval Patrick

  • Frank Lautenberg

    "President Obama's support for marriage equality marks an important moment for civil rights in America," said Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who co-sponsored legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). "We simply can not treat same sex couples as second-class citizens in our country. Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and is critical to guaranteeing the equal protection under the law promised to every American in the Constitution. The President's support for marriage equality should inspire Congress, Governors and state legislatures to advance civil rights for all Americans."

  • Allen West

  • Ann McLane Kuster

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy

  • Peter Welch

    "This is an historic moment and I applaud the President for his decision and courage," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said. "One of the greatest and most liberating human emotions is acceptance. And what the President did today was accept that the quality of love two people share is more important than their gender. The President's decision required him look within and engage his heart. It is truly wonderful and welcome news."

  • Senator Patty Murray

  • Steve Rothman

    "As an early and strong proponent of Marriage Equality, I am very happy that President Obama has made this announcement," said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) "Marriage Equality is a matter of basic human rights and all of America's same-sex families are now closer to having their unions recognized by our government. This is an important step in our country's march toward achieving true justice and equality for all."

  • Chuck Schumer

  • JackieForNH

  • Howard Dean

    "President Obama's public support for marriage equality is an historic affirmation of the fundamental American value of equal rights for all," said Howard Dean. "Having signed the nation's first law allowing Civil Unions as Governor of Vermont, I'm also proud to see our president affirm the belief that I and so many other Americans hold: loving and committed couples should have the same benefits that are extended through marriage. Marriage equality is a right and a benefit to all families."

  • Mike Quigley

  • Senator Ben Cardin

  • Sen. Barbara Boxer

  • Senator Dick Durbin

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