UPDATE: Governor Chafee signed the bill on July 2. The law went into effect later that same day, according to CNN.
PROVIDENCE — After failing to pass a marriage bill earlier this year, Rhode Island’s legislature yesterday passed a Civil Unions bill that now awaits the Governor’s signature.
Rhode Island, which is represented in the U.S. Congress by David Cicilline in one of only two districts in the state, is now surrounded by states with marriage equality, with Massachusetts to the north, Connecticut to the west, and soon New York to the south. Currently there are no state protections for same-sex couples in Rhode Island.
Not all advocates of recognition of same-sex relationships are pleased with the bill, though. This morning, several major forces in the fight for same-sex marriage released a joint statement calling on the Governor of Rhode Island, former Senator Lincoln Chafee, to veto the bill. Chafee — a former Republican who left the party in 2007 to run as an Independent — has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality since 2009, and was a strong supporter of the failed marriage vote earlier this year. Chafee has indicated he would sign the civil unions bill that passed the Senate 21-16.
In a press release this morning, however, the national organization specifically dedicated to same-sex marriage, Freedom to Marry, teamed up with very successful New England LGBT law firm, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Marriage Equality Rhode Island and several other groups to denounce what the groups call “onerous and discriminatory hurdles” that would result from passage of the bill.
“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 statement reads in part. “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.”
The bill already passed the lower House, where openly gay House Speaker Gordon Fox brought up the bill after the marriage bill failed.
You can read the full letter to the Governor here.