Rhode Island Senate Passes Civil Union Bill 21-16

UPDATE: Rhode Island Senate has passed the civil union bill 21-16. It's now headed to Governor Lincoln Chafee's desk. Chafee has promised to sign it despite a letter from LGBT advocacy groups asking him to veto. See below.


Rhode Island's civil union bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon:

Ri With Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed calling it "a historic day," the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7 to 4 Wednesday to recommend passage of a bill that legalizes same-sex civil unions.

The bill, which establishes marriage-like rights for people joined in civil unions, was expected to go before the full Senate as early as Wednesday evening.

Paiva Weed, who joined the committee for its meeting and voted for passage, called the bill "a compromise."

Lawmakers are expected to approve the bill:

Gov. Lincoln Chaffe, an independent, is expected to sign the bill into law should it pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, according to his spokesman, Michael Trainor.

But the controversial measure also drew sharp criticism from religious leaders and other opposition groups who say it would lead to court-ordered action that would eventually legalize same-sex marriage.

Many LGBT advocacy groups are calling on Chafee to veto the bill:

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.