A Rhode Island Senate panel on
Wednesday is expected to take up a bill that would recognize gay and
lesbian couples with civil unions.
The move comes less than a week after
the New York Senate approved and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into
law a bill legalizing gay marriage in the Empire State.
The legislation is supported by
independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, who also backs marriage
While Chafee and House Speaker Gordon
Fox, who is openly gay, earlier supported a bill legalizing gay
marriage in the state, the men reversed direction in part due to strong
objections to the institution by Senate President Paiva Weed. Weed,
however, said she could support a civil unions bill.
Fox's announcement that he would back
civil unions over marriage for gay couples drew a loud protest from
marriage supporters who said separate is never equal. The compromise
also failed to mollify gay marriage opponents, who claimed the law
would be used as a steppingstone to legalize gay marriage.
Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the
state's largest gay rights group, has said it will ask Chafee to veto
the bill if its religious protections are not narrowed. The group
has called an amendment added in the House that allows any religious
entity to ignore the civil union of a gay couple “dangerous.”
If approved in committee, the full
Senate could vote on the measure as early as late Wednesday. The
measure cleared the House last month.