It’s not quite marriage, but on Saturday, just one week after New York passed its new marriage law, former Republican, now Independent Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed into law a bill (House Bill 6103) legalizing civil unions after it passed the Senate on June 29th by a vote of 21-16 . Rhode Island is now the fifth state to allow such unions. They are already legal in New Jersey and Illinois and come January 1, 2012 they will be legal in Hawaii and Delaware as well. Other states – California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, permit “comprehensive domestic partnerships.”
Rhode Island’s sodomy law was only repealed in 1998.
Couples in a same-sex union will receive some new state tax breaks, health-care benefits and improved inheritance rules.
Gay rights activists would have preferred a bill legalizing same-sex marriage but this is a step in the right direction and if history is any judge, it may lead – as in Connecticut and Massachusetts – a same-sex marriage law. Chafee has voiced support for marriage equality and a spokesman has said the governor feels civil unions are “a step in the right direction.”
Still, there are fears that the bill leaves same-sex couples as second-class citizens.
Of course, we’re seeing the usual outrage from anti-Constitutionalist forces such as fundamentalists groups who have a knee-jerk opposition to anything to do with the U.S. Constitution. Anti-Constitutionalists have already damned the New York law, claiming it is a violation of their religious rights based on the First Amendment. Interesting that they can claim their rights are violated by granting other people the same rights they have.
The opposition in New Hampshire is, of course, despite the fact that as USAToday reports, the bill “includes language that would allow religious organizations to dismiss the rights given to gay couples in a civil union.” In other words, “Under the bill, for instance, a hospital with a religious affiliation could ignore the right of one individual in a civil union to make medical decisions for the other.” This includes cemeteries, community centers and schools as well.
And we all know how much fundamentalists want full control over any tax-funded location, including those listed above. It is difficult as it is to find a hospital without some religious affiliation.
Chafee had objected to this as well as its failure to provide full marriage for same-sex couples and so he says he signed it with “reservations.”
Most of the northeast – the old brewing grounds of the American Revolution – permit gay marriage now. In New England, only Rhode Island and Maine demur. It seems somehow fitting that these areas, so traditionally liberal and liberty-loving, step to the front to secure full constitutional rights for their citizens. It is no surprise, and perhaps also fitting, that in the old slave states of Confederacy – all the states south of the Mason-Dixon line – no state allows domestic partnerships or same-sex marriage.