Rhode Island’s ‘Religious Exemptions’ Cross The Line, Invite Discrimination Against Civil Unions

Before they would vote on marriage equality in New York, Republicans insisted that the bill include so-called “religious exemptions.” In the end, protections were put in place exempting religiously affiliated groups from recognizing the solemnization of a same-sex union; beyond weddings and similar ceremonies, however, same-sex marriages need to be recognized just like other marriages. In Rhode Island, where marriage equality was tabled and civil unions are still being considered, proposed exemptions go much further, and dangerously so. The Corvese Amendment, strongly condemned by Marriage Equality Rhode Island, allows that religious organizations can deny civil unions altogether (PDF):

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.

What was the fear in New York may become the reality in Rhode Island. Were this bill passed in its current form, religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, and businesses could completely ignore any civil union and deny couples the rights those unions are meant to accord. The way this reads, a nurse at a Catholic hospital (as an “individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations”) could deny same-sex partners the right to see their ill loved ones.


Rather than protecting religious organizations’ religious beliefs, this language is unabashedly concerned with ensuring that religious organizations and individuals can continue to discriminate against same-sex communities without repercussions.