The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday
approved a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with
civil unions, and Governor Lincoln Chafee has said he'll sign it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved
the bill with a 7-4 vote. A short time later the full Senate took up
the measure and overwhelmingly approved it with a 21-16 vote.
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.
Citing the measure's broad religious
exemptions, gay groups have urged Chafee to veto the legislation.
“This flawed civil union bill
undermines a crucial principle that Rhode Island has always stood for
– respecting the separation of church and state,” said Marc
Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry.
Freedom to Marry joined GLAD and other
groups in a letter to Chafee opposing the legislation.
“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 leave in order to care for his civil union spouse under Rhode
Island Family and Medical Leave,” the
The civil unions bill was introduced
after lawmakers decided against pursuing marriage for gay couples.