Rhode Island Passes Gay Civil Unions Bill

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The Rhode Island Senate has approved a bill that would allow homosexual couples to enter into civil unions.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign the measure, which has already passed the House.

State senators voted 21-16 on Wednesday to endorse the proposed law, which would allow gay couples to enter into civil unions with the same rights and benefits given to married couples

Some gay marriage advocates urged Chafee to veto the bill, objecting to exemptions for religious groups.

Groups opposed to gay marriage, who supported the religious exemption but said it didn't go far enough, called civil unions a dangerous stepping stone to full gay marriage rights.

"This is a disappointing and dangerous day for marriage in Rhode Island," said Chris Plante, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage-Rhode Island.

The bill's passage "presents a clear threat to the definition of marriage and the religious liberties of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders," he said. 

Earlier this month, New York became the sixth state to allow gay marriage, joining Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, as well as the District of Columbia.

Several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships instead.

Lawmakers modeled the Rhode Island bill on civil union laws enacted this year in Illinois, Delaware, and Hawaii.

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