LGBT Groups Urge Veto of Rhode Island Civil Unions Bill
June 29th, 2011
A broad coalition of LGBT advocacy groups are urging Rhode Island governor to veto the fatally flawed Civil Unions Bill which passed the state Senate earlier today. According to a press release sent out by two of those groups:
On the heels of a marriage victory in New York, marriage advocates including Freedom to Marry and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) sent a letter late yesterday evening to Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee calling on him to veto the civil union bill currently under consideration if it comes to his desk in its present form. The bill contains a provision that would allow religious organizations and their employees to disregard couples’ civil union status, creating unprecedented, onerous and discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples seeking to take care of one another.
“This flawed civil union bill undermines a crucial principle that Rhode Island has always stood for — respecting the separation of church and state,” said Marc Solomon, National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry. “Not only does the bill propose a separate-and-unequal status instead of ending the denial of marriage itself, it grants an unprecedented license to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. Governor Chafee should veto this defective bill and work with the legislature to enact a marriage bill that ends discrimination while preserving religious and personal freedom on equal terms for all.”
The letter, which was signed by groups including Freedom to Marry and GLAD, reads:
This amendment could allow individuals, who are legally required to recognize everyone else’s legal commitments, to opt out of doing so only for gay and lesbian people. In practical terms, this law could allow religiously affiliated hospitals to deny a civil union spouse’s right to be by his spouse’s side and make medical decisions for him, and could allow religiously affiliated agencies to deny an employee’s right to leave in order to care for his civil union spouse under Rhode Island Family and Medical Leave.
To read the full letter and see the full list of signers, click here.
“The Corvese amendment actually diminishes protections already available under Rhode Island law, and is seriously damaging to Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian families. If it becomes law, there is trouble ahead for Rhode Island’s same-sex couples,” said Karen Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
Signatories to the letter include: American Civil Liberties Union, Family Equality Council, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Freedom to Marry, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
When New York lawmakers negotiated that state’s marriage equality bill, particular focus was on a set of provisions which would provide an exemption for religious groups and organizations from being required to recognize same-sex marriage. New York’s exemptions were narrow and carefully crafted, giving very little away from what was already constitutionally guaranteed under the First Amendment. Those limits were carefully placed around churches, religious schools, and housing provided for members of a particular faith.
But the exemptions in Rhode Island’s civil unions bill, as it currently stands, pretty much allows virtually anyone to ignore a couple’s civil union:
15-3.1-5. 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.