PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island, USA -Larry Bacon and Dave Burnett have been together 34 years. Marriage, or a civil union, isn’t likely to strengthen their bond.
"It’s just a word that comes with a lot of legal benefits," said Bacon, of Newport, R.I. "But those benefits are important."
Marriage conveys more than 1,000 rights and benefits to spouses. A married person, for instance, has the automatic right to visit their spouse in a hospital or to make medical decisions for them if they cannot. They can share insurance and retirement benefits. Other rights include inheritance and residency status for non-citizen spouses married to a citizen and even the right to visit your spouse in prison.
Civil unions — now proposed in Rhode Island — would grant many of those rights to gay couples, though not all.
Legislation passed by the state House this month would grant gay couples in a civil union all of the state rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law. It’s based on similar civil union laws in Illinois, Delaware, New Jersey and Hawaii.
Gay marriage is recognized in Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut. Several other states offer domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Civil unions and gay marriage cannot grant any of the federal rights given to married couples because the federal government does not recognize gay unions. Those federal rights of marriage include federal tax benefits, Social Security death benefits and immigration status.
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