Rhode Island Committee Considers Civil Unions Measure In Tense Hearing

Last night, the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee held a tense hearing on a bill that would legalize civil unions and grant gay couples all of the state rights married couples now enjoy, but did not vote on the measure. The bill, which is opposed by some marriage equality proponents, surfaced after House Speaker Gordon Fox announced that he saw “no realistic chance” of passing same-sex marriage legislation “in either the House or Senate.”

Lawmakers have held three hearings this year on bills to enact gay marriage or civil unions and both sides have grown tired of their opposition, the Boston Globe reports. Yesterday’s hearing drew 100 people and lasted three hours:

At Thursday’s hearing one senator got into a heated argument with a pastor testifying against civil unions. After another senator criticized the Catholic Church’s stance during testimony from a priest, a woman in the audience cried out, “Heretic!” […]

Senators reviewing the measure were evenly divided Thursday.

Sen. Dawson Hodgson, R-North Kingstown, believes gay couples have the same right to marry and have families as heterosexual couples. “These are Americans like all of us,” he said.

Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, said he’ll oppose civil unions on religious grounds. “I didn’t write the Bible. God does not change.”

Since Rhode Island already recognizes out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples, some LGBT advocates see the civil unions compromise as a step back in the push for full marriage equality. Martha Holt of Marriage Equality Rhode Island argued that “civil unions would relegate gay couples to second-class status” and spoke out in opposition to “a loophole in the bill that would allow religious cemeteries, hospitals and schools to ignore rights given to gay couples in a civil union.”


The measure passed overwhelmingly in the House and is expected to move to the Senate floor in the coming days. If approved, Rhode Island would become the seventh state to offers such unions.