MERI, National Marriage Groups call on Chafee to Veto Civil Union Bill with Discriminatory Corvese

Marriage Equality Rhode Island joined with prominent national marriage equality advocates to call on Gov. Lincoln Chafee to veto civil union legislation if the State Senate passes it with the controversial and discriminatory Corvese amendment included. The measure is expected to be taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon.

“The bill put forth by the legislature would create onerous and discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples that no other state has ever put in place. As a result, we ask you to veto the bill should it come to your desk in its present form,” MERI and nine other civil rights and pro-equality groups wrote in a letter sent today to Chafee. The list of the signers include: MERI, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, The Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Family Equality Council, as well as The American Civil Liberties Union.

On Monday, 14 legislators penned a similar letter to Chafee, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed demanding that the broad and discriminatory Corvese Amendment be removed from the bill.

The Corvese amendment was purported to be about providing additional exemptions and protections to faith organizations, but in reality, it would allow any religiously-affiliated organization, including hospitals, day care centers, schools or cemeteries to openly and intentionally discriminate against civil union spouses. This means that hospitals, like Our Lady of Fatima or St. Joseph’s, could refuse to allow a spouse to visit their dying partner or make medical decisions in an emergency situation.

“By allowing individuals and institutions a free-floating license to discriminate against a whole class of people, in defiance of a general law, this bill represents a huge step backward from both Rhode Island’s longstanding nondiscrimination commitments and the balance and language embraced in the law throughout the country. This amendment could allow individuals, who are legally required to recognize everyone else’s legal commitments, to opt out of doing so only for gay and lesbian people,” the letter said.

For weeks, pro-equality advocates have spoken out on the dangers of the Corvese amendment, with leaders saying that it would be the most broad and discriminatory language to be included in any marriage or civil union bill anywhere in the country.

“This bill cannot be allowed to pass in its current form. If the House and Senate lack the fortitude or political courage to remove this bigoted and hurtful language from the civil union legislation, then the Governor will have no reasonable choice other than to veto the bill,” MERI Board Chair Martha Holt said.

“The Corvese Amendment condones and codifies discrimination, it has the potential to harm thousands of Rhode Islanders in loving, committed relationships, and we are asking the governor do all in his power to prevent it from becoming law” Holt said.

“Rhode Island has always been a beacon of protecting the separation of church and state,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry. “Unfortunately, the pending Rhode Island legislation flies in the face of that proud history. It adds insult to injury by enshrining civil union, a separate-and-unequal status, in law while granting license to religious organizations and their employees to discriminate against same-sex couples. We know that Rhode Island can do better.”

“The Corvese amendment actually diminishes protections already available under Rhode Island law, and is seriously damaging to Rhode Island’s gay and lesbian families. If it becomes law, there is trouble ahead for Rhode Island’s same-sex couples,” said Karen Loewy, senior staff attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.


Sam on June 29, 2011 at 8:39 am

Why not call on Chafee to veto a civil unions bill, regardless of amendment language?  What is MERI’s legal and political strategy here? Civil unions are not “Marriage Equality” at all.

MERI Blog Editor on June 29, 2011 at 4:50 pm

We completely agree that Civil Unions will never be equal.  Previous to the addition of the Corvese Amendment, we hadn’t taken a position on the CU bill.  However, with the addition of the damaging language that will be harmful to the community, we have no choice but to actively oppose it now.

Sam on June 30, 2011 at 7:25 am

My sign is ready.  What time is the rally at the State House?

Steve Ledoux on June 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Marriage IS important! Sharing my short marriage equality video with you…

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