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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) & civil unions in Rhode Island

2011: Estimated support for same-sex marriage.
Catholic & LGBT reaction. Civil Union bill becomes law.

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This topic is a continuation of a previous essay

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2011-JUN-29: Statistician estimates SSM opposition in Rhode Island:

Nate Silver maintains the FiveThirtyEight blog on the New York Times web site. He specializes in the statistical analysis of political trends and campaigns. He has built statistical models that attempt "... to predict the percentage of the vote that gay marriage-related ballot initiatives would receive ..." in the District of Columbia and in each of the 50 states if they were held on election day in 2012-NOV. 

In the case of Rhode Island, no actual citizen initiative is possible because, among the New England states, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island don't have laws that allow voters to organize propositions. 1 If they did have a system like the one that allowed California's Proposition 8, then the citizens of Rhode Island could veto unpopular legislation or perhaps create new legislation.

However, his estimates of the degree of opposition to SSM citizen initiatives do tell us what the citizens of Rhode Island want, even if they cannot vote their wishes directly or have matching legislation passed by a reluctant state government.

On 2011-JUN-29, Silver published an analysis for each state using two techniques:

  • A linear model which assumes that the support for same-sex marriage increases at about the same rate every year, and

  • An accelerated model that uses the trend line from national polls on same-sex marriage. 

He writes that the two models "... produce nearly identical estimates on the historical data, they diverge somewhat in their forecasts [of future data] because same-sex marriage appears to have gained support at a faster rate in the last couple of years." 2

His linear model predicts a 44.4% vote share for a hypothetical same-sex marriage banning referendum in Rhode Island on 2012-NOV. His accelerated model predicts a 40.4% vote share. Both models predict that such a citizen initiative would have been "favored to be rejected."

These predictions indicate that 58% of the adult population of Rhode Island will favor same-sex marriage in late 2012; 42% will be opposed, for a margin of 16%. These numbers are essentially identical to those from New York, Washington state and Oregon. 2 They represent every politician's worst nightmare. If they vote for marriage equality, they will be exposed to the anger of 42% of the adult population; if they vote for inequality, they will upset 58%. This is a lose-lose situation.

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2011-JUN-30: Thomas Tobin, Catholic bishop of Providence issued statement:

Following the passage of the civil union bill by the Rhode Island legislature, the Most Rev. Thomas Tobin, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence released the following statement:

"I am deeply disappointed that Rhode Island will establish civil unions in our state. The concept of civil unions is a social experiment that promotes an immoral lifestyle, is a mockery of the institution of marriage as designed by God, undermines the well-being of our families, and poses a threat to religious liberty.

In this context it is my obligation to remind Catholics of the teachings of the Church on this matter. First, the Church continues to have respect and love for persons with same-sex attraction; they are indeed children of God and our brothers and sisters in the human family. We pray for their well-being and offer them spiritual guidance and pastoral care. We also extend our love and support to families of homosexual persons who sometimes struggle with this difficult emotional issue.

At the same time, the Church reminds its members that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law and the will of God and, therefore, is objectively sinful. Persons with same-sex attraction are required to live the Christian virtues of chastity and modesty, as all persons are. The importance of these virtues is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures and in the constant tradition of the Church.

Because civil unions promote an unacceptable lifestyle, undermine the faith of the Church on holy matrimony, and cause scandal and confusion, Catholics may not participate in civil unions. To do so is a very grave violation of the moral law and, thus, seriously sinful. A civil union can never be accepted as a legitimate alternative to matrimony..

Can there be any doubt that Almighty God will, in His own time and way, pass judgment upon our state, its leaders and citizens, for abandoning His commands and embracing public immorality? I encourage Catholics to pray for God’s patience, mercy and forgiveness in these distressing times. 3

Bishop Tobin is here promoting the concept of "ambush theology:" the concept that God is continually looking for deviations from the straight and narrow moral path by people in an urban area or state so that he can stomp all over them if they wander by sending some natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake.

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2011-JUL-02: Governor Lincoln Chafee signed civil union bill into law:

Rhode Island became the fifth state in the U.S. to recognize loving, committed same-sex relationships with civil unions. The others are Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey. At that time, the District of Columbia and six states make marriage available to same-sex couples. A few of the remaining states offer limited rights to, and recognition of, same-sex couples. The remainging, which constitute most of the political jurisdictions in the U.S., treat same-sex couples as roommates.

The law took effect later on JUL-02, so couples were apparently able to apply for civil unions starting on JUL-05. The law gives a few hundred rights, privileges and obligations to couples, including state tax reductions, health-care benefits, and simplified inheritance procedures that had previously been reserved as special privileges only to opposite-sex married couples. 4 However, same-sex couples will not receive the over 1,050 federal rights, priviledges and obligations given to married couples because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That law has been declared unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In addition, civil unionized couples will not receive what is perhaps the most important right and benefit of all: to call their relationship a marriage.

On Top Magazine reported:

"The governor, who supports giving gay couples the right to marry, expressed reservations about the law's limited benefits but added that it would protect thousands of families, saying that the legislation “brings tangible rights and benefits to thousands of Rhode Islanders” and that it “provides a foundation from which we will continue to fight for full marriage equality. ..."

"Ray Sullivan, campaign director for the group Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) , told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the fight will continue next year, and that his group plans to make marriage equality a key issue in the 2012 elections." 5

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2011-JUL-05: Martha Holt, Board Chair of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI) comments on the new civil unions law:

"We are remarkably disappointed in this governor for signing his name to a bill that creates a second class citizenry for thousands of lesbian and gay couples in loving, committed relationships. The injustice of this bill is eloquently captured in the governor’s signing statement, which critiques the bill, particularly for its inclusion of the discriminatory Corvese Amendment. This fundamental unfairness is only magnified by the fact that the governor had to sign this piece of legislation without any fan fare and with next to no one standing beside him.

Make no mistake about it, this bill not only falls short of providing equal rights and protection, but will undoubtedly cause significant harm to same-sex couples in every corner of Rhode Island. This governor had pledged to push for marriage equality legislation and we hope that he will soon return to that commitment and join us in the effort to make it a reality.

While this legislation will provide some rights and benefits to gay and lesbian couples who have been denied them for far too long, only the freedom to marry can guarantee the full measure of recognition and protection that all citizens deserve. We will not stop fighting until the day when all Rhode Islanders are respected and treated equally under the law. We will not stop fighting until marriage equality legislation is finally passed in this state." 6

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Discussion of this topic continues in the next essay ...

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Bonnie Waskuk, "Citizen initiative is what's different," Sun Journal, 2005-OCT-30, at:
  2. Nate Silver, "The Future of Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures," FiveThirtyEight blog, 2011-JUN-29, at:
  3. Thomas Tobin, "Statement of Bishop Tobin on the approval of civi unions in Rhode Island," Rhode Island Catholic, 2011-JUN-30, at:
  4. David Ariosto, "Rhode Island governor signs civil union bill into law," CNN, 2011-JUL-02, at:
  5. "Rhode Island Gay Marriage Backers Vow To Return Next Year," On Top Magazine, 2011-JUL-06, at:
  6. Dawn Euer, "Martha Hold responds to Governor Chafee's decision to sign the flawed civil union bill," Marriage Equality Rhode Island, 2011-JUL-05, at:

Copyright © 2011 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2011-JUN-30
Latest update: 2012-DEC-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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