Rhode Islanders Mixed On Civil Unions
Optimism, frustration mix in people's reactions to new law.
Days after bill H 6103 establishing civil unions for same sex couples became law, Rhode Islanders’ reactions were split between optimism and frustration.
Even Governor Lincoln Chafee, who signed the bill into law Saturday, seemed of two minds on the bill. His signing statement noted that while the law creates civil unions, giving same sex couples who marry the same rights as heterosexual married couples, it also allows religious organizations to ignore the rights it grants, undermining its apparent intent.
Jessica Baker of Coventry, a student and hostess at Crow's Nest in Warwick, focused on the positive side of the new law. "I think it's about time that this decision was made. Everybody deserves to be happy," Baker said.
"I think this is a great step for Rhode Island. Open-mindedness is the key to progression," said Ben Ogni of Coventry, a RIC grad student.
At the Alley Cat bar on Snow Street in Providence, attitudes to the new law were more mixed.
James Dominick "JD" Crooks of Providence heard about Chafee signing the bill Sunday afternoon. "It’s a positive step,” Crooks said, but, "I still don’t get why it has to be a civil union, why it can't be a marriage. It's kind of like inviting you to the table, but, you can't eat with us."
Crooks said he's not considering marriage to anyone right now, but he might be some day. His parents have been married 42 years, "So I have kind of always had a very strong opinion of marriage," he said. When he is ready to marry someone, "I would want to be married over a civil union. I feel a civil union makes you a second class citizen."
Rande Diantuono of Providence, who owns the Alley Cat, the Dark Lady next door and Homestead down the street, isn't considering marriage, civil union or not. But, "I do think it’s a step in the right direction," he said.
Diantuono and his partner have been together for 15 years, and he said he knows he'd be able to be at his bedside during a medical emergency, and that their relationship has the respect of those in their lives. "Both of our families have been so receptive of us and each other," Diantuono said.
Diantuono, who was raised a staunch Catholic but no longer practices, said the exception in the civil union law for religious organizations shows a big part of the issue hinges on faith. "It just aggravates me," he said, "It holds people back from letting go."
Peter Rock was also at the Alley Cat Sunday with Matt Salvadore, both from Providence. "I think it’s a cop-out," Rock said of the civil union bill. "I don’t want something in between."
Salvadore said he thought the law will give people a few years to get used to the idea of same sex couples marrying. But, as for getting married under the civil unions law, "I don’t think I’d consider it," he said.
Susan Heroux of North Providence wasn't a fan of the bill. "Creating a 'separate but equal' law is never right and I believe this civil union law actually makes things worse for gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders. While civil unions might appear to give some of the rights of marriage, the bill also legalizes discrimination against same-sex couples. Under this law, anyone can ignore a civil union by claiming religious reasons."
"It’s a bad law and I hope the RI Legislature and Governor will stop practicing discrimination and rescind this law and pass full marriage equality," Heroux said.