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Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a civil-union bill July 2 and it took effect immediately.
Although it extends the rights of marriage to civil-union same-sex couples, gay activist groups opposed the law because of concessions made to religious forces.
“The bill contains a provision that would allow religious organizations and their employees to disregard couples’ civil-union status, creating unprecedented, onerous and discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples seeking to take care of one another,” said Freedom to Marry and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders. “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.”
“Not only does the bill propose a separate-and-unequal status instead of ending the denial of marriage itself, it grants an unprecedented license to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families,” said Freedom to Marry’s Marc Solomon.
Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Same-sex marriages from elsewhere are recognized as marriages in Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and California (if the marriage took place before Proposition 8 passed).
The U.S. states with civil-union laws that grant all state-level marriage rights are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington. Four other states have gay-union laws that extend some rights of marriage: Colorado, Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin.