Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Individuals "Religious Freedom" Comes Before Equality In Rhode Island

The last time I dealt with the issue of Rhode Island and marriage equality, I urged us to follow a pragmatic approach regarding the issue. Hence, I gave support to civil unions legislation, when it seemed as though a marriage bill would not pass the State Senate. But, with the recent developments regarding the "Corvese Amendment" I must necessarily withdraw that support.

The Amendment reads as follows, (thanks to Think Progress for the full text of the legislation)
15-3.1-5. Conscience and religious organizations protected. – (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment, shall be required:
(1) To provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, certification, or celebration of any civil union; or
(2) To solemnize or certify any civil union; or
(3) To treat as valid any civil union; if such providing, solemnizing, certifying, or treating as valid would cause such  organizations or individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.
(b) No organization or individual as described in subsection (a) above who fails or refuses to provide, solemnize, certify, or treat as valid, as described in subdivision (a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) above, persons in a civil union, shall be subject to a fine, penalty, or other cause of action for such failure or refusal.
       Though this may read like any other religious exemption clause, pay close attention to section 3. This one clause allows religious organizations and individuals to not even recognize the fact that a Rhode Island couple is in a civil union, if by doing so, they would violate their religious beliefs. This could cause problems, for example, in religiously affiliated hospitals, where a nurse who has an objection to civil unions could refuse to let someone in a civil union see his partner in the hospital.

        Religious exemptions, though not necessary per the First Amendment, are an important part of any marriage equality/civil union bill. But such exemptions should not be supported when they cross the line and allow individuals to not even recognize a civil union based upon the vague concept of "religious belief". This bill, with its attached amendment, was approved by the Rhode Island legislature, and now makes its way to Governor Lincoln Chafee's desk. If he signs it, which he has said he will, the state of Rhode Island will be giving an individuals religious beliefs preference over a civil contract, creating a very dangerous precedent.

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