R.I. governor urged to veto civil unions bill over discriminatory amendment

The Task Force joins other groups in calling on Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee to veto a civil unions bill passed this evening by the state Legislature. The groups oppose the measure in its present form because it includes an amendment that allows religious institutions to opt out of recognizing the unions and would allow religiously affiliated hospitals to prevent same-sex couples from making health care decisions for their partners.

Opposition to the measure was outlined in a joint letter issued earlier this week and signed by the Task Force and several others:

By allowing individuals and institutions a free- floating license to discriminate against a whole class of people, in defiance of a general law, this bill represents a huge step backward from both Rhode Island’s longstanding nondiscrimination commitments and the balance and language embraced in the law throughout the country. 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 live in order to care for his civil union spouse under Rhode Island Family and Medical Leave. This language creates an even more vulnerable situation for those who most critically need the protections that the civil unions bill attempts to provide – ‐ those couples with less financial means, who have the least control over where to access health care and who are most likely to need to avail themselves of religiously-affiliated social services.

The list of signers includes Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality Council, as well as American Civil Liberties Union.

The groups sent this message to the governor:

The bill put forth by the Legislature would create onerous and discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples that no other state has ever put in place. As a result, we ask you to veto the bill should it come to your desk in its present form.