Rhode Island passes civil union bill, but should we be applauding?

Rhode Island is the latest state to allow same sex couples to enter into a civil union. On the surface this is good news, especially after the incredible victory for marriage equality the LGBT community scored in my original home state, New York. Of course when you begin to dig below the surface you begin to find all that’s wrong with the passage of the Civil Union bill.

Civil unions are not the same as marriage. Civil unions are very much a modern day “separate but equal” form of discrimination. Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (Independent) calls it “…a step forward.” The governor is a supporter of marriage equality but the bill he just signed into law is a step toward the back of the bus.

Most disturbingly, the civil union legislation includes an exemption for religious organizations and its employees. Under the law, religious organizations don’t have to consider a civil union valid. This includes churches, hospitals, schools, cemeteries, and pretty much anything or anyone else that declares civil unions not valid for religious reasons. Rhode Island is a state with a large Catholic population. The Catholic Church in Rhode Island has already said it will not consider civil unions valid. Progressive Catholics have different views on same sex marriage. In reference to the passage of marriage legislation in New York, Jeff Stone, spokesman of Dignity USA, stated

“…We call on the bishops to embrace the best of our church’s social justice tradition, which require equal protection under the law for all people, and to support rather than oppose marriage equality legislation across the country.”

Essentially, the government in Providence will recognize the commitment two same sex partners make to each other but the people of Rhode Island don’t necessarily have to. That makes absolutely no sense! A couple in a union could be driving down to Newport for vacation and get into a car accident. One guy makes it out okay but his partner is seriously injured and is taken to the closest hospital, which happens to be a Catholic hospital. If the first guy wanted to visit his partner he might encounter problems from the hospital if they are opposed to their civil union. Therefore, how is this law even comparable to marriage?

Yesterday was America’s Independence Day. As I was sitting on the National Mall in our nation’s capital watching the spectacular firework show I couldn’t help but think of all the same sex couples around the country that can’t enjoy the same benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. While lawmakers in Providence had good intentions with the passing of the bill, gay and lesbian Americans need more than good intentions, we need action.