Conservatives Expect Rhode Island To Protect Their Right To Discriminate Against Same-Sex Marriages

This afternoon, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Coalitions have already formed on both sides of the issue with Rhode Islanders United for Marriage supporting equality and the National Organization for Marriage’s Rhode Island for Marriage opposing it. It seems conservatives will not be holding back in their assault on the rights of same-sex couples, as demonstrated by the testimony Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Kellie Fiedorek will offer at today’s meeting:

FIEDOREK: Religious freedom belongs to everyone, not just a handful of people. The government cannot limit constitutionally protected religious liberties in a way that’s foreign to our Constitution. This bill fails to ensure that those liberties of every Rhode Island citizen will be respected. The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom for all Americans is not limited to the four walls of a church.

The OneNewsNow article highlighting Fiedorek’s remarks clarify her intention that justices, judges, court commissioners, business owners, and counselors should all have protections to not recognize same-sex marriages.

Unfortunately, this is a realistic problem for the Rhode Island legislation. When lawmakers attempted to pass marriage equality in 2011, they ended up settling on a civil unions bill with some of the most extreme “religious exemptions” of any similar bill in the country. According to that law, administrators at religion-run schools, hospitals, and businesses can simply refuse to treat civil unions as valid if doing so violates their religious beliefs, essentially making legal recognition of civil unions pointless. Combined with the access and recognition of same-sex marriages from neighboring states, it’s unsurprising that civil unions have been “a complete failure” in the state, with less than 100 couples bothering to get one after the law had been in effect over a year.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I), who is eager for the new legislation to pass, issued an executive order last May requiring all state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The kind of exemptions ADF is demanding could essentially roll back protections married same-sex couples already enjoy. Fortunately, there is little reason for lawmakers to cave to such inordinate invitations to discriminate, as 56 percent of voters support marriage equality.