Thursday, June 30, 2011

Whose religious freedom? News from Rhode Island

Despite a pro-equality governor, Rhode Island's legislature decided that marriage is not in the cards this year so they put forward a civil unions bill. Gay groups are calling for it to be vetoed. Why would they cut off their nose to spite their face, you ask? Aren't civil unions better than nothing?

Not necessarily. The Rhode Island bill comes with extreme "religious freedom" protections that go beyond constitutional guarantees. Basically, they legitimize civil discrimination outside of religious acts. Here's what the bill says:
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.
The PRop8TrialTracker comments
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 ... 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.....

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 ... twice the distance. That’s the difference between life and death. And this bill’s language could mean that.
ThinkProgress says the same thing:
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.
I wonder, would the Catholic hospital refuse to recognize as married a couple where the two spouses had been married previously and divorced? Somehow, I'm going to bet not. So why are they given the rights to do that here?

1 comment:

Jim Pratt said...

I see that the bill passed and the governor signed it.

It is deeply flawed, so deeply that the worst provisions probably won't survive a court challenge. Especially as it applies to church-affiliated hospitals, which are subject to non-discrimination laws because they receive public funds. then there's the possibility the whole thing goes down, because it sets up a separate, second-class status.

sometimes we need to be happy with incremental change, without giving up the ultimate goal.