Rhode Island: House passes civil unions bill 61-11

The Rhode Island House has overwhelmingly approved civil unions by a vote of 62-11 after a last-ditch attempt to convert the bill to full marriage equality failed.

The bill now goes to the state Senate, where it is predicted to pass easily.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee has promised to sign it.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, GLAD, are very unhappy with the religious exemption in Rhode Island’s civil unions bill:

Everyone agrees that religious denominations should not be required to join any two people in any legal relationship – whether marriage or a civil union – that is contrary to their religious teachings. However, the religious exemption amendment goes much further in allowing religious charitable and educational organizations – such as social service providers, hospitals, and educational institutions – to treat legal civil unions, authorized under Rhode Island law, as invalid for any purpose.

Karen Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney for GLAD, said “This unprecedented exemption means a civil union spouse could be denied the ability to make medical decisions for her spouse in a hospital; it means that a math teacher at a religiously-based school could not get the same health insurance for his legally recognized partner that all other teachers receive. This exemption actually diminishes nondiscrimination protections in public accommodations and employment that Rhode Island employers and institutions have successfully lived with since 1995. It just inflicts gratuitous harm on Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian families.”

I realize there are many who are disappointed at the lack of a full marriage equality bill moving forward, but I believe the Speaker of the House, who said the votes weren’t there for full marriage equality.

I may be naive, but it seems it’s better to leave the fight with some of what you want than nothing.

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