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R.I. Gay Rights Group to Gov: Veto Civil Unions Bill

R.I. Gay Rights Group to Gov: Veto Civil Unions Bill

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While many gays in Hawaii and Illinois were jubilant when their states recently passed legislation establishing civil unions, LGBT Rhode Islanders aren't seeing much to cheer about.

Rhode Island's Senate will likely pass a bill this week that allows same-sex couples to form civil unions; the state House already approved civil unions in May. The legislation comes after the state tried for marriage equality and failed -- years after its neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts, legalized same-sex marriage. To add insult to injury, the civil unions bill comes with heavy concessions to the state's Roman Catholic community -- according to The Boston Globe, gay rights activists believe the bill includes overly broad protections for religious groups "that could, for example, allow a Catholic hospital to bar a gay man from participating in his partner's medical decisions."

Rhode Island's course of action is surprising to many, considering the state is part of liberal New England and has a Democratic-majority legislature, an independent governor supportive of marriage equality (Lincoln Chafee), a gay speaker of the House (Gordon Fox, pictured), and a gay congressman and former mayor of Providence (David Cicilline). Fox, particularly, was pushing for marriage equality, but he changed course because he believed the bill would never pass the Senate. The very carefully worded civil unions legislation seems to be only angering activists -- many of whom are likely emboldened by nearby New York overcoming numerous obstacles to pass marriage equality Friday.

"Rhode Island has always been a beacon of protecting the separation of church and state," Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, said in a statement provided to The Advocate. "Unfortunately, the pending Rhode Island legislation flies in the face of that proud history. It adds insult to injury by enshrining civil union, a separate-and-unequal status, in law while granting license to religious organizations and their employees to discriminate against same-sex couples. We know that Rhode Island can do better."

Ray Sullivan, the campaign director for Marriage Equality, went a step further and said his group, along with other equality organizations, is urging Governor Chafee to veto the civil unions bill should it make it to his desk.

"We've been fighting to pass marriage equality," Sullivan said. "Given how bad the language [of the provisions in the civil unions bill] is and the potential for harm from this bill, we have no other choice but to oppose it."

Gay people working at a religiously affiliated college or university could be barred from taking family medical leave under the civil union provisions, Sullivan said. Also, people in civil unions who enroll their child in a Catholic school could be excluded from choices about their child's education, he added.

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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.