Thursday, June 30, 2011
The nation's smallest state, Rhode Island, is poised to adopt civil unions for same-sex couples. The legislature has passed the statute and Governor Chafee is expected to sign it. However, unlike the New York statute passed last week, the status is not marriage and the religious exemptions are exceedingly broad. In New York, the religious exemptions are limited to solemnization or celebration.
The Rhode Island bill, H6103, amended as H6103aaa, includes this exemption:
Conscience and religious organizations protected.
(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:
(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or
(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or
(3) To treat as valid any civil union;
if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.
(emphasis added). Thus, under this broad exemption, it seems that religious organizations - - - including "faith-based" organizations that contract with the government to provide services - - - could refuse to recognize a civil union.