Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee [official website] on Monday signed an executive order [text, PDF] requiring government agencies to recognize same-sex marriages [JURIST backgrounder] performed out-of-state. Rhode Island law currently allows civil unions [JURIST report] for same-sex couples, but the law was silent on whether same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions should be recognized. In 2007, the attorney general issued an opinion in favor of recognizing same-sex marriage, but it was not legally binding and later that year the Rhode Island Supreme court refused to grant a divorce [JURIST reports] to a same-sex couple legally married in Massachusetts. The executive order takes effect immediately and will entitle partners to benefits such as health insurance for spouses of state employees, certain tax exemptions and being able to list both parents' names on a child's birth certificate.
Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue throughout the US. US President Barack Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage last week just one day after voters in North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment to ban it [JURIST report]. In March Maryland became the eighth US state to legalize same-sex marriage, joining Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire [JURIST reports]. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the District of Columbia [JURIST report].