July 7, 2011

Marriage Recognition Updates: New York and Rhode Island

New York: Same-Sex Marriage

Last month, the New York Legislature passed, and Governor Cuomo signed, the New York Marriage Equality Act (A08354), which formally recognizes all marriages that would otherwise be valid in the State, without regard to the sex of the parties. This recognition would extend to marriages that were entered into in other jurisdictions. The law became effective beginning July 24, 2011.

The law includes a provision that exempts benevolent societies and religious entities from being required to provide accommodations, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization of a marriage. The law also allows religious entities and religious educational and charitable organizations to limit employment, housing accommodations and admissions policies to promote the organization’s religious principles, or to show a preference for individuals of the same denomination as the organization.

Rhode Island: Same-Sex Civil Unions

On July 2, 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed civil union legislation (HB 6103) which formally establishes civil unions as a legal relationship between 2 people of the same sex. Civil unions and registered domestic partnerships that were entered into in other jurisdictions are also recognized under the new law as long as the relationship meets Rhode Island’s eligibility requirements. The law is effective July 1, 2011.

In order to enter into a civil union, the individuals must be at least 18 years old, not a party to another civil union or marriage, not within a certain degree of kinship, and mentally competent at the time of the union. Licenses for civil unions can be obtained from the town or city where one of the parties lives or the town or city where the ceremony will be held if neither party is a Rhode Island resident. To terminate a civil union, the process is the same as dissolving a marriage.

The law includes a provision allowing religious protection. Religious institutions, affiliated organizations, and employees of religious entities can refuse to provide, solemnize, certify or treat as valid any civil union if it would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief. These organizations and individuals cannot be subject to a fine or penalty for acting in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

Effect of the Laws

It is very important to note the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the state to opposite-sex married spouses are extended to same-sex married spouses, or to partners in a civil union, including, but not limited to, those related to employment and state tax benefits.

Self-funded plans subject to ERISA are not subject to state law, and therefore, are not bound by these requirements. The recognition of same-sex marriages in New York, or civil unions in Rhode Island, does not apply to federal law, such as federal tax law, federal social security law, and federal level employee benefit laws, among others.

Type of Relationship Recognized as of July 5, 2011



Same-Sex Marriage

Same-Sex Civil Union

Opposite-Sex Civil Union

Effective Date





October 28, 2008





January 1, 2012

District of Columbia




March 3, 2010





January 1, 2012





June 1, 2011





April 3, 2009





May 17, 2004

New Hampshire




January 1, 2010

New Jersey




February 19, 2007

New York




July 24, 2011

Rhode Island




July 1, 2011





September 1, 2009

A special note about California: California recognizes marriages between same-sex partners that occurred between June 16, 2008 and November 4, 2008. The issue of same-sex marriage in California is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Background Benefit Beat articles:


The information contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended to be legal, accounting, or other professional advice, nor are these comments directed to specific situations.

As required by U.S. Treasury rules, we inform you that, unless expressly stated otherwise, any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this Benefit Beat is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding any penalties that may be imposed by the Internal Revenue Service.


Accelerated Recovery Resources

Access articles and tools to help your business generate cash, improve leverage, and align & transform as you recover from the pandemic.

COVID-19 Resources

Access all COVID-19 related articles to help your business respond to the pandemic.

Insights in Your Inbox