Providence, capital of Rhode Island

In an unusual situation a number of gay rights groups are urging Rhode Island’s governor to veto a bill that legalises gay and lesbian civil unions.

The bill was passed by the state’s senate and must now be signed by governor Lincoln Chafee for it to become law, which he has indicated he will do.

But, while many saw the bill’s passing as a victory for LGBT rights, groups including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Marriage Equality Rhode Island and Think Progress are calling for it to be vetoed.

According to the HRC, the bill is “flawed” and “discriminatory” because it specifically allows religious institutions in the state to not recognise the same-sex civil unions.

This could lead to situations in which, for example, religious hospitals, cemeteries or schools could legally refuse to acknowledge same-sex partners and families’ rights.

Failure to veto would be a “slap in the face” to gays and lesbians

HRC said that the civil unions bill is “a step backward” that “will create discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples that no other state has ever put in place”.

It added that while other states have sought to secure equality for same-sex couples while maintaining religious liberty protections, “the religious exemption language in Rhode Island goes too far”.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island Board Chair Martha Holt commented that the organisation was extremely disappointed that lawmakers had ignored objections raised by equality and civil rights groups.

“This civil union bill contains dangerous and discriminatory language that, without question, will cause significant harm to countless gay and lesbian couples in loving, committed relationships, and we will continue to fight it through whatever means are necessary,” she said.

“Furthermore, we renew our request that the governor veto this hurtful and ill conceived bill. To not do so would be a slap in the face to the gay and lesbian community, and every Rhode Islander who cares about equal rights and protections for all our state’s citizens.”

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