June 29, 2011
By Adam Bink
The Rhode Island legislature just passed legislation legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.
This was a difficult road. The choice was made to push a civil unions bill through in Rhode Island rather than marriage — a choice that may, to Rhode Islanders, be the best choice based on what they want and need at the moment.
What becomes a problem is language like this in the bill:
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.
Perhaps some legislators looked at the careful negotiation and insertion of religious exemption language in New York State and demanded the same deal. The difference is that pastors deciding who to marry, and synagogues deciding whether to rent out their reception hall for a wedding, is not the same as this.
I’ll give you an example: if I were back home in suburban Buffalo and my partner had a medical emergency and I had to get him to a hospital, Kenmore Mercy hospital would be the closest at just over 3 miles away. I could drive there in my sleep. Unfortunately for me, Kenmore Mercy is a Catholic hospital. If he were treated at Kenmore Mercy, then despite all my civil union paperwork, despite my partner’s wishes for me to make important medical decisions on his behalf, or be at the doctors’ side to tell them important information like what he’s allergic to or that he only has one functional kidney, they can treat me as a complete stranger and it’s legal. They could do to me the same as what happened to Daniel Weiss in New Jersey, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit being filed:
Daniel Weiss, for instance, had to show doctors his civil union ring to show that he could make medical decisions for his long-time partner, John Grant, after Grant was struck by a car and his skull shattered in Manhattan. Despite explaining it to attending doctors, the hospital called Grant’s sister up from Delaware – four hours away – to make medical decisions for him.
“At the moment that we needed civil unions the most to provide equality, it failed for us miserably,” said Weiss. “To this day, the records at Bellevue Hospital do not recognize that I am the next of kin.”
Let’s say I didn’t want to go to a Catholic hospital because of those very concerns. Then the next closest hospital would either be Millard Fillmore-Gates Circle or Millard Fillmore Suburban, both about 6 miles away. That’s twice the distance, more stoplights, more chance for an accident or hitting traffic.
That’s the difference between life and death. And this bill’s language could mean that.
Will Gov. Chafee veto it?