Karen Loewy

While Equality Delaware called the signing of Delaware’s new civil union bill on Wednesday historic, activists in Rhode Island said a civil union compromise would make gays and lesbians second-class citizens in that state.

According to the Providence Journal, opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage were united in their opposition to a civil union bill for Rhode Island.

Supporters of a marriage equality bill are frustrated. Rhode Island is the only New England state that hasn’t passed a marriage bill (although Maine’s was repealed). Speaker of the House Gordon D. Fox is gay and in November voters elected David Ciccilline, former mayor of Providence, as the fourth openly gay member of Congress. And the state already recognizes marriages performed elsewhere.

Karen Loewy, a Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders attorney, said, “Nothing short of marriage is equality for Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian citizens and their children. By citing DOMA, Speaker Fox lets the federal government set the standard for discrimination and sells out the gay community for the sake of political expediency. DOMA’s days are numbered as it comes under increasing legal and political attack.”

With civil unions, if the federal Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex couples in Rhode Island would continue to be treated as second-class citizens federally, Loewy said.

Since same-sex marriages from out of state are recognized in Rhode Island, and because the state is so small, anyone in Rhode Island can drive less than 20 miles to a state where same-sex marriage is legal.

Delaware became the fourth state with civil unions  — in addition to Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey. Four — California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — have domestic partnerships.

Smaller packages of protections have passed in Maryland, Maine, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire plus the District of Columbia — have marriage equality.