A Step Back

Why Is the HRC Making a Big Stink Over Rhode Island’s New Civil Unions Bill?

Because they have read the fine print.

The Rhode Island senate passed a new civil unions bill, but gay rights groups like the HRC, Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Think Progress LGBT are asking the governor to veto it. Despite the fact that the bill extends rights to same-sex partners, the HRC is calling it “flawed” because of a religious exemption clause that gives churches the right to deny services to gay couples.

According to the HRC, the bill creates “discriminatory hurdles” for gay partners not necessarily wanting to get married in a church, but for those admitted to a Catholic hospital or employees of a religious university, where partner rights could be denied on the basis of the “religious exemption” clause.

Apparently, not all civil union bills are a step forward. Some are so disoriented that they’ve got us walking backwards without realizing it.

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  • christopher di spirito

    Rhode Island is a tiny state with a disproportionally high number of Roman Catholic residents.

    The rights of the pedophile-loving Catholic church must be protected above all else.

  • TMikel

    It is time for the LGBT community to divorce itself from mainstream religion. What we need, and should want it CIVIL recognition of our unions. One can always find a church to bless that union if one wants, but there is no reason or purpose in trying to get reactionary religious institutions to approve of them. We have separation of church and state in this country for a good reason. We cannot have it both ways. As long a civil law recognizes our unions, that should suffice.

  • Cam

    Just another example of the B.S. when people claim that Civil Unions are exactly the same as Marriage.

  • Matthew Dimick

    I wonder if the same stink should have been raised about the amendment that was added to the NY marriage equality bill. Technically speaking, it was a step back. NY already recognized same-sex marriage WITHOUT the now existing “super protections” on the grounds of religion. (Let’s also be sure to note that no church is mandated to marry ANYONE, gay or straight, so adding the provision to protect churches from having to perform same-sex marriage is ridiculous.) Did we act in haste allowing the amendment to secure the vote on SSM in NY? Will it undermine the non-discrimination act in some ways?

    I’m afraid that we are setting precedence in these votes that will just create hurtles in the future. This is one example of our community starting to recognize we deserve more.

  • fredo777

    Not that I’d want to work at a religious university in the first place, but I see their point.

  • Elloreigh

    @Matthew Dimick:
    Exactly. I felt like I was screaming and no one would hear me when the New York marriage bill passed. Its “religious exemptions” (more like special rights for the Roman Catholic Church) set a terrible precedent, and now it’s already being copied – even quicker than I expected.

  • gtsanity

    it there church get married in a church that supports you

  • Rainfish

    “According to the HRC, the bill creates “discriminatory hurdles” for gay partners not necessarily wanting to get married in a church, but for those admitted to a Catholic hospital…”


    If I remember correctly, federal law trumps state law. Obama signed an executive order that forbids any hospital which receives medicare and/or medicaid payments from discriminating against designated same-sex couples as patient and proxy. The first time a private, so-called christian hospital pulls this on a gay couple they would be in violation of the Executive Order and could lose federal medicare/medicaid funds which, in effect, would de-certify them from accepting those elderly patients who are on medicare/medicaid — which are most hospitals’ bread and butter.

    Of course, executive orders can be reversed so a more universal contract, such as marriage, would be better in contesting restrictions on marital relationships. Also, it would be interesting to find out if there is a non-severability clause in the new law, such as in New York’s recent marriage equality law, which would mean that the entire Civil Union Law in Rhode Island could be null and void if any part of its “religious exemption” provisions are challenged.

    It’s a damn shame that the stupidity and the hatred which springs from organized religion-based bigotry can cause such legal convolutions and foul injustice to flourish in this day and age.

  • the crustybastard

    The Catholics have already stated their conclusion they have some right to ignore ANY patient’s legal advance medical directives if those choices conflict with Catholic doctrine.

    Every informed person should know that.

    You should include a provision in your advance medical directive noting that: because you are not a Catholic; because you do not agree with Catholic doctrines with respect to medical treatment; and because Catholic hospitals have a stated intent to ignore the advance directives you intend to put forward in your advance directive, you do not want to treated by any Catholic hospital, and in the event you are dispatched without your consent to a Catholic hospital, you want to be transferred to another facility as soon as is practicable.

    So yes, while the Catholics are once again picking on gay people, they have always reserved the right to discriminate within the four walls of their churches and ALSO within the quasi-public institutions they run (with the benefit of massive public subsidies). Of course, like those absurd “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs, you cannot reserve a right that you do not have.

    Which brings us to Rainfish’s comment that Catholics would be violating an Executive Order if they tried to do so. Which may be true, but also presumes the Obama Administration would dispatch the DOJ to vindicate the rights of gay Americans. This idea causes me to laugh bitterly, as Obama’s DOJ has thus far been dispatched only to argue that gay people don’t have the rights of ordinary citizens (or even the rights of non-citizens). In other words, it’s surpassingly unlikely this administration would shut down a hospital because a gay person was discriminated against there.

    If you haven’t learned your gay ass is politically expendable yet, you obviously ain’t much for learning.

  • Cam

    Anybody notice how much more deferential this blog has become to HRC since being bought out?

    Additionally, while the blog will do stories on the anti-gay bills and NOM, it has now stopped pointing out the very close funding relationship that NOM has with the Mormon Church, nor does it keep us updated on the case where NOM was refusing to list their donors.

    The Mormons tried to by ads or a share of Queerty in the past. Did they do this now under the new owners?

  • Cam

    The main opponent of this bill is “Marriage Equality RI” and yet this blog is again making it out as if this is an HRC push.

    Again, just how closely tied to HRC is this blog?

  • Daez

    These religious exemption issues will always come up in same sex marriage or civil unions. The truth is, there is no need to protect someone working at a religious institution. They should probably know they won’t get protected by the fact that the very institution they work at actively works to deny them rights. If you make a deal with the devil you don’t normally come out on top.

    As far as people being in Catholic hospitals, if that happens its tragic, but until its an epidemic, this bill is still a step in the right direction. A step that wouldn’t have come without this exemption.

  • Jeffree

    @Daez: The best & easiest way to handle the Churches’ moral exemptions is to remove the subsidies & tax exempt status of any church-based organization who can’t abide by the law*. When hospitals & adoption agencies won’t recognize equality, then they don’t get state funding.

    *I don’t believe they should have to marry same-sex couples though

  • Queer Supremacist

    Religious organizations shouldn’t get our tax dollars whether or not they discriminate.

    Frankly, I think it’s time we start discriminating against anyone who belongs to an anti-gay church. Turn the tables on them.

  • robert in NYC

    Some catholic hospitals receive government funding. If that’s the case then there is a conflict. Why isn’t this being addressed? I think it’s about time to get serious about removing the tax exempt status of any religious denomination that benefits from taxpayer dollars. If they want to interfere in politics and demand extra protections as beneficiaries of our tax dollars, then they should pay taxes like the rest of us. Why should anyone be above the law? Of course, no politician worth his or her salt is going to go anywhere near it, be they democrat, republican or civil libertarian.

  • Schteve

    @Matthew Dimick: The religious exemptions in the New York bill and this one are world’s apart. I get that some are upset at New York’s, but it’s relatively limited in scope and about the only kind of exception it carves out is a church not having to rent out its space that it allows the rest of the public to rent. Rhode Island went overboard and allows religious institutions to ignore civil unions for anything you can imagine, from offering benefits to the same-sex partner of an employee to a hospital not needing to recognize the right to make medical decisions. That wouldn’t have flown in New York either.

  • Shannon1981

    I think, at this point, we have to accept that these bills are not going to be passed if religious institutions are not protected. Period. It simply won’t happen, because despite the fact that no gay couple in their right mind would want to have their special day in a place where they are hated, religious people simply will not stand for the slightest possibility of being forced to perform ceremonies in which they do not believe. Furthermore, let’s face it, there are some gays who are angry enough (and rightfully so) that they’d go to such a church, demand a marriage, and sue when it is denied, just because they can.

    I hate the clauses, but no religious protections will = no marriages and/or civil unions. Further down the road, we may be able to revisit and re vamp the bills to take the BS out, but, right now, I just don’t see it happening.

  • Shannon1981

    Edit to add: Rhode Island’s exemptions are outrageous. Yes, veto, please, and rewrite it.

  • Bruce Majors

    Why do you believe you have the right to take people’s buildings away from them and use them for your ceremonies? Why do you believe you have the right to force people to perform ceremonies for you? How do you not think this will lead to a backlash where they use state power against you? I believe attempts by the Carter administration to interfere with Christian schools is what led to the creation of the Moral Majority in the 70s.


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