Rhode Island rounds out Northeast USA with civil rights for all

Less than a week after New York became the nation’s sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, Rhode Island state lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that permits civil unions between gay and lesbian couples.

The measure, which passed the state Senate by a count of 21-16, is widely seen as a compromise intended to provide same-sex couples with added rights and benefits, while also preventing an expanded legal definition of marriage.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, is expected to sign the bill into law, according to his spokesman, Michael Trainor.

…The law would take effect on July 1, making Rhode Island the fifth state in the union to allow civil unions between same-sex couples. Such unions are currently permitted in New Jersey and Illinois, and will be allowed in Delaware and Hawaii beginning January 1, 2012. Three West Coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — plus Nevada, also allow for “comprehensive domestic partnerships,” largely considered an equivalent to their civil union counterparts…

The legislation, which passed overwhelmingly in the state’s lower house on May 19, affords same-sex couples a host of new state tax breaks, health-care benefits and greater ease of inheritance…

The usual clot of religious nutballs and homophobes threw up their hands in a collective whine after passage.

There is a chance the law will have a sticking point over the predictable group of riders supposedly designed to protect religion-based institutions from lawsuit. This often extends all the way to defending hospitals owned by religious groups who refuse decision-making on medical services to civil union partners.

This may not seem like a big problem for our urban-dwelling readers; but, here in Santa Fe County the only for-real hospital is owned by flunkies for the Catholic Church. They’ve already removed a number of procedures formerly allowed – on the basis of ideology and superstition.

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