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Rhode Island Senate Approves Civil Unions

The Rhode Island state legislature has approved civil unions for gay couples.

The Associated Press reports:

The Rhode Island Senate has approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, a measure that Gov. Lincoln Chafee says he’s inclined to sign.

State senators voted 21-16 Wednesday evening to endorse the bill. The legislation, which already has passed the state House, allows gay couples to enter into civil unions that offer the same rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law.

It is now headed to Chafee’s desk for his signature.

Several gay marriage advocacy groups have urged Chafee to veto it because of what they call overly broad exemptions that would allow religious institutions to ignore rights given through civil unions. The measure would, for instance, let religious hospitals refuse a civil union spouse the right to make emergency medical decisions.

Reuters Adds:

Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, was expected to sign the bill, which already passed Rhode Island’s House in May, a Chafee spokesman said.

The decision for tiny Rhode Island comes a week after New York became the nation’s most populous state to legalize gay marriage.

The proposal defines civil unions as a legal union between two individuals of the same sex, granting all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities to them that the state affords to people who are married.

Gay advocacy groups, such as Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), support some aspects of the civil unions bill but would prefer same-sex nuptials to be legalized in the state.