The Rhode Island Senate has approved legislation tonight that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The approval came less than an hour after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 4 to recommend passage, reports the AP.
State senators voted 21-16 Wednesday evening to endorse the bill. The legislation ... allows gay couples to enter into civil unions that offer the same rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law. It is now headed to the desk of Gov. Chafee for his signature.
The House of Representatives approved the civil unions bill by a 62 to 11 vote on May 19. HB 6103 was introduced as a compromise after House Speaker Gordon Fox—who became Rhode Island's first Black and first openly gay House speaker in February 2010—said a marriage equality bill did
But several civil rights and LGBT advocacy groups are calling on the governor to veto it because of what they call "overly broad" religious exemptions, reports the Providence Journal.
In a two-page letter sent to the governor, the groups said the bill — scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Wednesday afternoon — "represents a huge step backward from Rhode Island’s longstanding nondiscrimination commitments" and provides "individuals and institutions a free-floating license to discriminate against a whole class of people, in defiance of general law."
"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," the groups wrote. "In practical terms, this law could allow religiously affiliated hospitals to deny a civil union’s spouse’s right to be by his spouse’s side and make medical decisions for him."
The groups that signed the letter included Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Freedom to Marry and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Chafee supported marriage equality and says he is inclined to sign the bill. No comment yet from his office on the veto request. The Catholic Church and evangelical leaders are also opposed to the bill.