Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed an executive order on Monday that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states, thereby granting homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.
Unlike surrounding states, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, Rhode Island does not perform same-sex marriages, but will now recognize those carried out in other states, where the practice is legal. However, these unions will not affect federally regulated benefits such as income taxes covered by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and a woman.
The decision comes a week after President Barack Obama stated that he personally agrees that same-sex couples should be able to get married, an endorsement that has been met with a lot of support from gay rights activists, but disappointment from those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage.
The state chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, argued that the decision is not what the majority of people in the state wanted to see.
"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.
Chafee tried to push for legalizing same-sex marriage last year but with such a bill unlikely to pass, state legislators instead introduced and approved a civil unions bill. The governor noted last year that the lack of support in the legislature was due to strong calls from the local religious community.
According to the National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island, 80 percent of Rhode Islanders want the gay marriage issue to be decided by the people. Only 7 percent said they want a legislative vote.
This week's decision has been seen as a big step forward by Boston-based gay rights group Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and will "have immediate positive impact," according to GLAD attorney Karen Loewy. She explained that married gay couples now "will be able to receive consistent, equal treatment from their state government."
GLAD apparently worked with Chafee, an independent who previously served as a Republican U.S. senator. Efforts to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages in the state began in 2007 when then-Attorney General Patrick Lynch issued an opinion in favor of the recognition. Chafee said now the order "follows through" on that opinion, as reported by The Associated Press.
A number of gay couples were present at the ceremony in Providence, where Chafee signed the order, AP reported.
One such couple, Martha and Patricia Holt Castle, who were married in Massachusetts, explained that they were unable to list both their names on their son's birth certificate in the Ocean State when Martha gave birth to him in 2010.
"I was devastated," Martha described. "For our next child, we won't have to go through the same kind of turmoil."
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004 when Mitt Romney, the likely 2012 Republican presidential nominee, served as governor.
Romney has since declared his support for the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.