Tying the Civil Union Knot

When Aaron Coutu ’98, M.L.S. ’00, (right) and Ray Daignault were united in a civil union ceremony this summer, they were one of the first gay couples in Rhode Island to do so.

“When you have been together for 13 years, you know that you love each other and will be there for each other,” says Coutu who is the assistant director of the Cumberland Public Library, as well as an adjunct instructor for URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. “At the same time, it was totally amazing to officially recognize our relationship and announce that we really are one in front of family and friends.”

The new state law creating civil unions for gay couples falls short for gay-rights advocates who have sought for full marriage recognition.

“The fact that there is a different phrase used to describe our union indicates that there is a difference, which means there is also inequality. Some in the community are holding out for full equality, but I feel that it can be helpful to take advantage of what is available now and keep fighting for the rest,” said Coutu who, while not an official advocate, worked for full equality in Burrillville where he and Daignault reside.

The new law allows many of the same rights provided as marriage law on the state level but none of the federal rights of marriage. Previously, Coutu and Daignault would have had to obtain those state rights, vital for medical considerations and inheritance rights, at great legal expense because same-sex couples could not be considered next of kin.

The new law, however, comes with exemptions for religious cause: “The law basically says we have similar rights unless someone is religiously offended by our relationship, allowing their right to freedom of religion to trump ours.”

Still the exemption didn’t dim the couple’s day or the congratulations that followed: “Everyone I have spoken to has been supportive of our union, and the good wishes are usually accompanied with the hope that full marriage equality passes soon,” said the new groom. “This has not only been from friends and family, but also patrons at the library, some of whom I don’t know well at all.”