Thursday, June 30, 2011
Yesterday eveningthe Rhode Island State Senate approved a bill allowing civil unions for gay couples. The bill was fiercely opposed by gay-rights advocates who claimed the legislation was discriminatory. Rhode Island’s House of Representatives already passed the bill, and the state’s governor, Lincoln D. Chafee, has said he will likely sign the bill though he believes its religious protections are overly broad. If Chafee signs the bill, Rhode Island will join Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Jersey as the fifth state to allow civil unions for gay couples.
Under the bill, gay couples will receive the rights and benefits provided in Rhode Island to married couples, such as hospital visitation, joint bank accounts, and property transfers. However, the bill gives religious organizations the authority to not recognize gay unions. Gay rights advocates claim that this broad religious discretion would, as an example, allow a Catholic hospital to disallow a gay partner from making medical decisions on behalf of his or her partner.
Ray Sullivan, the campaign director for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, has criticized the bill for its overly broad religious protections and has stated that the civil union establishes “a second-class citizenry.”
Marriage Equality Rhode Island had planned to remain neutral on the civil unions bill but came out against it after the “draconian” religious protections were added. Most civil union and gay marriage bills offer some religious protections — allowing a minister not to perform a gay marriage ceremony if he so chooses, for example — but the Rhode Island bill goes much further, Mr. Sullivan said.
Abby Goodnough, Rhode Island Lawmakers Approve Civil Unions, The New York Times, Jun. 29, 2011.