Rhode Island House approves civil union bill

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[JURIST] The Rhode Island House of Representatives [official website] approved a civil union bill [Bill 2011-H6103aa, PDF] Thursday by a vote of 62 to 11 [press release]. The bill was voted out of committee [JURIST report] earlier this week and is modeled after similar legislation in Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii [JURIST reports], granting all rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

While in the House, several amendments failed [Providence Journal report], including one to convert the bill to a same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] bill, and another to clarify that marriage is reserved for opposite-sex couples. Another failed amendment would have put the decision to voters in a referendum. The bill is now sent to the Senate, where its passage is uncertain [AP report]. Governor Lincoln Chafee [official website] is expected to sign the bill but has expressed disappointment [NPR report] that it is limited to civil unions rather than same-sex marriage.

Same-sex marriage continues to be a controversial and divisive issue through the US, although a recent poll [materials] suggests support for legalization is growing. The Minnesota Senate [official website] earlier this month approved a voter referendum [JURIST report] to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Last month, a Montana judge dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] that had called for the state to provide legal status to same-sex relationships. Also in April, the Indiana Senate [official website] overwhelmingly approved [JURIST report] an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage or any “substantially similar” status, and the Wyoming Senate [official website] in February approved a bill that would void in Wyoming any same-sex marriages and civil unions [JURIST report] performed in other jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, DC [JURIST reports].

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