- Associated Press - Monday, May 14, 2012

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island’s governor declared Monday 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 - which permits civil unions, but not gay marriages - 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. Mr. Chafee said his signing of the executive order is “following through” on that opinion.

The executive order is expected to have many concrete 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.

Six states - all in the Northeast, except for Iowa - and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. More than 30 states have defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

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.”

Mr. 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.

Mr. Chafee said President 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.

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