The Rhode Island state House passed a civil unions bill today by an overwhelming majority of 62-11.
The legislation would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions, which would give them the same rights under the state as married couples; gay couples would not be allowed to marry.
The bill now goes to the Rhode Island state Senate, where Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed has predicted it will pass; Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (I) has said he would sign the bill.
This legislation was fairly controversial, as many pro-equality advocates came out against the bill under the belief that civil unions create separate and unequal institutions that treat gay couples as second-class citizens.
A bill that would allow gay couples to marry in Rhode Island failed earlier this month after it was determined that there were not enough votes for the bill to pass. An amendment was introduced to the civil unions bill to turn it into a marriage bill, but this amendment was shot down before the final vote.
It is unfortunate that this legislation would retain gay couples as second-class citizens who cannot marry as their straight friends can; however, it is still something worth working for, as many gay couples need the rights civil unions would allow, such as hospital visitation rights.
Civil unions are a stepping stone: they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We will have marriage equality in Rhode Island, perhaps not this year, but certainly soon. It is a question not of "if," but of "when." We should work to pass the civil unions bill this year, with the knowledge and determination that full marriage equality will come swiftly after it.
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