Friday, February 23, 2007

Rhode Island AG opinion recognizes same-sex marriages from Massachusetts

The New York Times reported Feb. 20 that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrrick Lynch issued a requested opinion in response to the question raised by three state employees who had been married in Massachusetts.

Responding to a request for a legal opinion from the commissioner of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said the state prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and did not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.

“Rhode Island will recognize same-sex marriages lawfully performed in Massachusetts as marriages in Rhode Island,” the seven-page opinion said.

Mr. Lynch said his interpretation permitted recognition of the marriages, although he acknowledged that it was just an opinion and did not have the force of law.

“This is about Rhode Island citizens who entered into a valid, legally recognized same-sex marriage and returned here to live and work,” Mr. Lynch, a Democrat, said in an interview. “There is no way, no law, no constitutional provision and, in my estimation, no right to allow the denial of basic human rights.”

A spokesman for Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, said Mr. Carcieri and his legal counsel were studying the opinion.

The request from the board, which oversees the state’s three public colleges, went to Mr. Lynch on Feb. 1 after three employees who had same-sex marriages in Massachusetts asked that their personnel files be changed to reflect that they were married, said Steven Maurano, a spokesman for the board. Mr. Maurano said the board would abide by the attorney general’s opinion. (snip)

Mr. Lynch said businesses and state agencies could choose whether to abide by the opinion.

“Perhaps litigation will flow from it,” he added.

Bills to allow and to bar same-sex marriage, as well as one to create civil unions, were filed this year in the General Assembly. Previous bills on the subject died.

In September, a judge in Massachusetts ruled that Rhode Island couples could marry in Massachusetts because Rhode Island did not have a law barring same-sex marriage.

At the time, Mr. Lynch said that the ruling did “not mean that Rhode Island will recognize a same-sex marriage performed in Massachusetts.”

Mr. Lynch said Wednesday that the statement applied because a Massachusetts judge could not determine the course of Rhode Island law.

The Boston Globe ran a brief AP article today here about Lynch having attended a same-sex ceremony for his sister earlier this month. He stated that his sister's marriage to her long-time partner had "zero impact" on the opinion, which he called " 'well-grounded and well-researched' by his staff and based on a 1904 state Supreme Court ruling."

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