Chapter 198


Enacted 07/02/11





     Introduced By: Representatives Petrarca, Fox, JP O`Neill, E Coderre, and Watson

     Date Introduced: May 03, 2011


It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows:


     SECTION 1. Title 15 of the General Laws entitled "DOMESTIC RELATIONS" is

hereby amended by adding thereto the following chapter:





     15-3.1-1. Definitions. -- (1) "Certificate of civil union" means a document that certifies

that the persons named on the certificate have established a civil union in compliance with this


     (2) "Civil union" means a legal union between two individuals of the same sex

established pursuant to this chapter.

     (3) "Party to a civil union" means a person who has established a civil union pursuant to

this chapter.


     15-3.1-2. Eligibility. -- Persons shall be eligible to enter into a civil union only if both

such persons are:

     (1) At least eighteen (18) years of age;

     (2) Of the same sex;

     (3) Not a party to another civil union or a spouse in a marriage with any other person;

     (4) Not in a family relationship within the degrees stated in Rhode Island general laws

section 15-1-1 or section 15-1-2; and

     (5) Neither person is mentally incompetent at the time of the civil union.


     15-3.1-3. License requirements. -- (a) Persons intending to form a civil union in this

state must first obtain a license from the town or city in which:

     (1) One of the parties to the civil union resides; or

     (2) In the case of both parties being nonresidents of this state the city or town in which

the proposed civil union is to be performed.

     (b) Before any license shall be issued to any person who, having previously been married

or been a party in a civil union to someone other than their intended civil union partner, the

person shall present to the town or city clerk a certified copy of the decree granting the divorce or

dissolving the civil union.

     (c) The license required in: (a) shall be valid for three (3) months after the date of issue,

and if unused at the expiration of the three (3) months, the party or parties having the possession

of the license shall immediately return it to the town or city clerk from whom it was obtained.

     (d) License fee. For issuing the civil union license the town or city clerk shall collect a

fee of twenty-four dollars ($24.00). The city or town shall retain eight dollars ($8.00), and

transmit sixteen dollars ($16.00) to the general treasurer of the State of Rhode Island who shall be

responsible for depositing eight dollars ($8.00) of the sixteen dollars ($16.00) received into the

family and children trust fund created by Rhode Island general laws section 42-72-30. Each clerk

shall keep an accurate account of all fees charged and received under this section and shall

transmit all sums due to the general treasurer at least monthly in the manner and with the forms

which the general treasurer shall prescribe.

     (e) The several town and city clerks shall record, in separate books to be kept by them for

that purpose, the information furnished to them and subscribed to as provided in this section.

Further, town and city clerks shall treat the civil union certificate as a vital record pursuant to

Rhode Island general laws chapter 23-3.


     15-3.1-4. Certification of civil unions. -- Officials empowered to certify persons in civil


     (1) Every ordained clergy or elder in good standing, every justice of the supreme court,

superior court, family court, workers' compensation court, district court or traffic tribunal, the

clerk of the supreme court, every clerk or general chief clerk of a superior court, family court,

district court, or traffic tribunal, magistrates, special or general magistrates of the superior court,

family court, traffic tribunal or district court, administrative clerks of the district court,

administrators of the workers' compensation court, every former justice or judge and former

administrator of these courts and every former chief clerk of the district court, and every former

clerk or general chief clerk of a superior court, the secretary of the senate, elected clerks of the

general assembly, any former secretary of the senate or any former elected clerk of the general

assembly who retires after July 1, 2007, judges of the United States appointed pursuant to Article

III of the United States Constitution, bankruptcy judges appointed pursuant to Article I of the

United States Constitution, and United States magistrate judges appointed pursuant to federal law,

may certify a civil union in any city or town in this state; and every justice and every former

justice of the municipal courts of the cities and towns in this state and of the police court of the

town of Johnston and every probate judge and every former probate judge may certify a civil

union in any city or town in this state, and wardens of the town of New Shoreham may certify

persons in civil unions in New Shoreham.

      (2) Every certification of a civil union shall be held in the presence of at least two (2)

witnesses besides the person officiating the certification and no minister, justice or other

authorized person shall perform the civil union certification until the persons to be certified in a

civil union have presented him or her the license named in this section.

     (3) Every minister, justice, or other authorized person who certifies any persons in a civil

union shall endorse the "License and Certificate of Civil Union" presented to him or her by the

persons and certify that the persons were certified in a civil union in accordance with the laws of

the State of Rhode Island and the person who certifies the parties in the civil union shall complete

all the information on the "License and Certificate of Civil Union" and file the form within

ninety-six (96) hours following the date of the civil union certification with the clerk in the town

or city from which the license was issued.

     (4) The town or city clerk to whom the civil union certificate is returned shall carefully

file and preserve the return.

     (5) If any person has any lawful objection to the civil union of any two (2) persons, he or

she may state the objection in writing, under his or her hand, to the minister, justice or other

authorized person about to certify the civil union, at which time the minister, justice or other

authorized person shall proceed no further in the civil union until the lawful objection has been


     (6) Every minister, justice, or other authorized person who certifies persons in a civil

union without first receiving the license required by this chapter containing the required

information, or whenever the certification of the civil union has been lawfully objected to and the

impediment is not removed, or when the person certifies parties in a civil union that he or she

knows to have a husband, wife, or other civil union partner shall be imprisoned not exceeding six

(6) months or fined not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000).

     (7) No civil union certified before a person professing to have a license or professing to

be qualified to certify the civil union shall be deemed or adjudged to be void, nor shall the

validity of the civil union be in any way affected by want of jurisdiction or authority in the person

by noncompliance with any of the requirements of this chapter, if the civil union is in other

respects lawful and has been certified with a full belief on the part of the parties to the civil union,

or either of them, that they have lawfully certified in a civil union.

     (8) Every person who certifies a civil union without being legally authorized to do so

shall be fined five hundred dollars ($500).

     (9) If, as the result of a court decision, any civil union which has occurred in Rhode

Island is declared invalid, the court shall order the state registrar of vital records to mark “invalid”

the original civil union record on file at the division of vital records and to note the invalidity of

the civil union on all other files or references to the civil union.

     (10) Whoever provides any false information as to the requirements under this chapter, or

whoever enters into a civil union without duly proceeding as is required by this chapter, shall be

fined not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500).


     15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected. – (a) Notwithstanding any

other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no

organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by

or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the

foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:

     (1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a

purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or

     (2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or

     (3) To treat as valid any civil union;

     if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such

organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

     (b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or

refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or

(a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action

for such failure or refusal.


     15-3.1-6. Benefits, protections, and responsibilities. -- A party to a civil union lawfully

entered into pursuant to this chapter shall have all the rights, benefits, protections, and

responsibilities under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative rules, court decisions,

the common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law as people joined together pursuant

to chapter 15-3.


     15-3.1-7. References and inclusions. -- A party to a civil union shall be included in any

definition or use of any term that denotes the spousal relationship, whether or not gender specific,

as those or related terms designating that relationship are used throughout the laws of the State of

Rhode Island.


     15-3.1-8. Reciprocity. -- A civil union or registered domestic partnership that extends

benefits and responsibilities without the status of marriage and is legally entered into in another

jurisdiction shall be recognized in Rhode Island as a civil union; provided, that the relationship

meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter.


     15-3.1-9. Dissolution of civil unions. -- The family court, as established by Rhode Island

general laws section 8-10-3, shall have jurisdiction over all proceedings regarding dissolution of

civil unions. In all relevant respects, the dissolution of civil unions shall follow the procedures

and be subject to the substantive rights and obligations outlined in chapter 15-5.


     15-3.1-10. Requirement of department of health - Civil unions. -- (a) The department

of health, office of vital statistics shall draft and distribute applications for civil unions to every

town and city within the state.


     15-3.1-11. Severability. -- If any part of this chapter or its application to any person or

circumstance is adjudged invalid, the adjudication or application shall not affect the validity of

this act as a whole or any other part.


     SECTION 2. This act shall take effect on July 1, 2011.



LC02541/SUB A