Rhode Island – One Law for All!

It is a fundamental principle of this nation that everyone be considered equal under the law, and that that law must be secular in character. In Rhode Island, this principle is under attack.

Rhode Island is currently considering allowing same-sex couples the right to get a civil union (not even a marriage). The Corvese Amendment would exempt religious organizations from the law, allowing them to discriminate against people who have had civil unions:

“…no religious or denominational organization…shall be required…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.”

This shocking attempt to undermine the principle of equality under the law is merely an extension of religious exemptions which have already been passed in New York. But these go much further – while the “exemptions” in New York simply reaffirm the right of religious organizations not to perform marriage ceremonies if they do not wish to (a right they already enjoyed under the Constitution), the exemptions in Rhode Island would enable religious organizations to legally discriminate against those who have expressed their love through a civil union. As ThinkProgress puts it, if this amendment were to pass, “religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, and businesses could completely ignore any civil union and deny couples the rights those unions are meant to accord.”

This outrage is even more obscene given Rhode Island’s long history of promoting freedom: Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen original colonies to declare independence from British rule, and was the first state to enact a law against slavery. Rhode Island welcomed the first synagogue in the US, and elected the first delegates to the Continental Congress (as well as coming up with the idea). Providence Plantation, one of the founding colonies of Rhode Island, was begun by Roger Williams, an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state – secularism is built into the very bones of this beautiful state!  This proud history of supporting democracy, freedom and equality must not now be tarnished by the actions of a few short-sighted legislators seeking to enshrine inequality in law.

This is a full-frontal attack on the rule of law and on the traditional American values of fairness and equality. The Corvese Amendment must be defeated, for the sake of the most exalted principles of this nation.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

    So, it’s a mixed bag then. On the one hand, considering legalizing civil unions is a step in the right direction, and should be applauded and supported. On the other hand, the Corvese Amendment grants too much religious privilege.

    Just a word of caution: while fighting that amendment, let’s be careful not to throw out the civil unions with it.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      Intriguingly, that’s precisely the tack Rhode Island equality organizations have taken: they seek the veto of the bill. I’m not sure precisely what the rationale of this is – perhaps that it would set a dangerous precedent for the future? Or perhaps that civil unions are already a compromise and this is one compromise too much?

      • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

        That’s a little bizarre. I had a discussion via Facebook in the last few days about civil unions vs. marriage in the law (I’ll link her to this page). She contends that civil unions are discriminatory under the idea that separate is not equal, while I think that if the laws can be designed such that civil unions would grant the same rights as marriage, it would be fine. One or two lines stating that wherever the law references marriage, it shall be understood to also refer to civil unions. “Marriage” can be a social/religious construct.

        Still, if that doesn’t happen, then it’s not equality. Nonetheless, I would argue that any progress is good progress, and once the civil unions are legal, even with the Corvese Amendment, we could begin the work of pushing for the rest of our rights. Vetoing the bill entirely does not seem a wise move.

        • TempleoftheFuture

          My feeling on civil unions is that they do not represent full equality unless they are also called “marriages”, while marriages are available to straight couples. This is the situation we have in the UK, and while we certainly appreciate it is better than nothing (a LOT better) I don’t view it as full equality.

          I’m not sure why they’re angling for a veto – the main reason seems to be that they feel the unions bill does not go far enough already in terms of equal rights and that this is a further insult, and one step too far.