Amended legislation to permit civil unions in Rhode Island passed out of that state’s House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, according to The Providence Journal. A House floor vote is expected to occur Thursday.
This legislation represents a major setback for pro-equality activists, who had been assured earlier this year that full marriage equality was within reach. No organized group of LGBT persons in the state supports the civil-union legislation; Marriage Equality Rhode Island has consistently stated that civil unions — which lack recognition by the federal government and other states, and may be ignored by merchants and employers within the state — are an unacceptable alternative to marriage equality. The belief that civil unions represent a retreat to second-class citizenship has been bolstered by the fact that Rhode Island’s nearby neighbors — the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts — already enjoy marriage equality.
The Roman Catholic Church wields exceptional power in Rhode Island politics, and — despite polls which show a majority of state residents supporting marriage equality — the church opposes not only marriage equality but also the civil union legislation and any other recognition of same-sex relationships.
The Church’s ongoing political activity may be evident in the latest draft civil-union legislation, which appears to withdraw recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Here’s the new text which relates to unions performed in other states:
15-3.1-8. Reciprocity. — A civil union legally entered into in another jurisdiction, shall be recognized in Rhode Island as a civil union; provided, that the relationship meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter.
Here is the previous draft text:
15-3.1-8. Reciprocity. — A civil union, or a substantially similar legal relationship, legally entered into a another jurisdiction, shall be recognized in Rhode Island as a civil union. ”
There are a lot of hurt feelings among LGBT activists in the nation’s smallest state, especially after an abrupt and mysterious change of leadership at Marriage Equality Rhode Island which coincided with the retreat from marriage equality by the state’s Democratic leadership. An article which accuses national organizations of carpetbagging and obstructing marriage equality in Rhode Island for strategic reasons has been published on the Edge network of LGBT newspapers. The article’s sources are anonymous; the article was previously published and then removed from the web site of The Rainbow Times due to its unsourced allegations.