PROVIDENCE – The cost of getting married in Rhode Island could triple soon.
Pawtucket Rep. Elaine Coderre has introduced legislation that would add a $46 surcharge to the fee for a marriage license to pay for domestic violence prevention.
That would hike the cost of a license – which is currently $24 – to $70.
Of the additional $46, $44 would go to the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) to operate the prevention programs and $2 would be kept by the city or town issuing the license.
Coderre’s bill is slated for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, just one week after the full House created a whole new class of potential marriage license applicants by legalizing same-sex marriages.
“It’s a means of funding the shelters, as public funding is less and less each year,” Coderre told The Times Tuesday.
Deborah DeBare, executive director of RICADV, called Coderre’s bill “a critical piece of the larger picture.
“For 30 years, we have been putting Band-aids on emergency crisis situations and arresting abusers,” DeBare explained. “We are finally at the point where we have to prioritize prevention. There are evidence-based programs that are tested and are best practices.”
The money from the marriage licenses, she said will go through the treasury to RICADV, which will distribute it to the local prevention programs. The fee increase is expected to bring in more than $250,000 each year.
According to the coalition, 28 states use marriage license fees to fund domestic violence programs in their state. Most of these states have designated between 29 percent and 64 percent of their total marriage license fee to go to domestic violence. New Hampshire designates $38 of its $45 fee for domestic violence services.
Rhode Island currently has the eight lowest marriage license fee in the country, the group said, and it has not been increased since 1990.
DeBare said studies show that instances of domestic violence are comparable between married couples and unmarried couples.
Richard Goldstein, Pawtucket City Clerk, whose office issues marriage licenses, said domestic violence prevention “is a great cause, but $46 is a lot to add onto a marriage license at one time. For a lot of people in some communities, that is going to be a big burden. I understand what they are trying to do, but that is a big number.”
Goldstein said he has sent the bill out to city clerks in other municipalities and was told they had the same concern about the fee. “But it is not going to affect our ability to so our jobs,” he said. “It isn’t going to make our jobs any harder.”
DeBare defended the fee hike.
“The average wedding in Rhode Island costs over $40,000,” she noted. “So that would just add on a little bit of extra cost. To add on $46 keeps it in the median range of marriage licenses in the country.”
In its literature, the coalition says, “a non-recurring, once-in-a-lifetime $70 total fee will not be unreasonably burdensome.”
Coderre concedes that the $46 “is a large increase all at once.” She added that she “wouldn’t mind” if the amount of the fee were reduced during the legislative process,