Gay Marriage Advocates Aren’t Celebrating Rhode Island’s Version of Civil Unions
Critics call the Rhode Island civil unions bill 'a slap in the face,' 'discriminatory' and 'the most unequal civil unions law' in America.
Rhode Islanders who would be elated to see gay marriage recognized in this state are highly critical of a civil unions bill approved by the Rhode Island Senate Wednesday night. Several people contacted Wednesday night say the bill now being sent to Gov. Lincoln Chafee is discriminatory and unfair.
'Most unequal law in the States'
Sarah Jane Correia grew up in Tiverton, RI, got married and moved overseas because Rhode Island, like most U.S. states, does not recognize a marriage between same-sex partners. She wants to live in the U.S. but, unable to obtain a spousal visa for her British wife of the past five years, the couple left the country. Together, they are raising their infant son in England.
Correia is back stateside this week, visiting family and watching the Senate pass a civil union bill that is really a big tease. Correia called Rhode Island’s version of civil unions, “the most unequal civil union law in the States.” She specifically criticized what’s known as the “Corvese Amendment,” a section of the bill that allow religiously-oriented organizations, such as churches, hospitals or healthcare facilities, to ignore otherwise legal civil unions.
“I, personally, have never had any issue with having a separate name for gay marriage, or civil unions, if they were truly equal to each other, but Rhode Island's civil union laws are far from equal,” Correia said.
She added that she’s glad to see Rhode Island headed in the “right direction,” but this Rhode Island law won’t change her situation; her spouse still can’t get a visa.
“I can only hope it's a step on the way to repeal DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act) and create equal marriage laws on a federal level, which will in turn hopefully affect immigration equality,” Correia said.
Raymond Beltran, immediate past state chairman of the Rhode Island Caucus of Log Cabin Republicans, said of the passage of the civil unions bill: "Anything that renders Rhode Island as separate and barely equal is not anything that I would support."
"By passing the legislation, you are raising it as a civil rights issue, but you're not really going the distance and really eradicating the problem," said Beltran, who is also a freelancer for East Providence Patch. "What we have now in Rhode Island is, we have our state government saying it is giving one group one set of rights and not the other group the same set of rights in the way of marriage," he said. "You essentially have the government practicing sanctioned discrimination."
He added that he thinks it's ironic that the majority of the state legislators in Rhode Island are part of the Democratic party and that they have the reputation of helping the disenfranchised. "Yet we’ve seen over and over again this inability for the Democratic party in Rhode Island to stand by what are supposedly their principles," Beltran said. "Basic political math tells anyone, that with a supermajority in our legislature, then if this was truly important to the Democratic party, then we would have had it [gay marriage] by now."
‘Separate will never be equal’
East Providence Councilwoman Katie Kleyla, a Democrat, met opposition at a city council meeting in April when she introduced a resolution in support of same-sex marriage.
Asked about the passage of the civil union legislation Wednesday, she replied in a message: "I do not consider civil unions to be a form of marriage equality. I am passionate about same-sex marriage, not a political cop-out that the General Assembly hopes will placate the masses while discrimination continues. Separate will never be equal, no matter what mask you put on it."
‘A slap in the face’
Kim Harris Stowell, managing director of Options Newsmagazine, a monthly publication that's covered Rhode Island's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community since 1982, said many in the LGBT community see it "as a slap in the face."
Stowell, who is legally married in Vermont and has served as a spokeswoman for the group Marriage Equality Rhode Island, said she is disappointed in Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox for "reneging on his campaign promise to support full civil marriage rights."
In a written statement, she wrote: “I am struck by the fact that almost no one wanted this bill. The opposition camp seems to think it is too dangerously close to giving people like me equal rights, while many in the gay community see it as a slap in the face. There was very little testimony in support of it during the hearings, from either side. And yet that is what we got. Something nobody wanted.”
She also wrote: “Personally, I think this bill legalizes discrimination. I am legally married … but this bill will do nothing to recognize that legal document. And the amendment that was attached to the bill – the so-called Corvese Amendment – paints a very broad swath in terms of exceptions. So broad that it would be perfectly legal for a Catholic hospital to deny a person's right to make medical decisions on behalf of his or her spouse, simply because they are a gay couple.”
Patch editors Jen McCaffery and Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington contributed to this story.