The controversial Corvese amendment to the recently enacted civil union law, which legislators will reconsider today, is seen as an affront to the very rights the new law bestows on same sex couples – it allows religious institutions to not recognize the relationship or otherwise adhere to the law. But for Rep. Frank Ferri, a gay legislator in a long-time committed relationship who is sponsoring the bill that would repeal the amendment, it is also a practical matter.
“It affects me personally,” he said, noting that Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic-backed hospital in Providence, is the closest to his job in Johnston. “If I get rushed to the hospital … they can refuse to acknowledge my husband or my civil union partner and not let him make any decisions for my health care. They can refuse to even let him in the room.
Pointing out that the civil union law has religious exemptions in it without the controversial codicil that was added at the eleventh hour last session, he said, “The Corvese amendment extends religious exemptions to a point that is unfair to the LGBT community and people who are in civil unions. It actually takes away rights, that’s what I find so egregious about it.”
Author of the language, Rep. Doc Corvese, a very conservative Democrat from North Providence, defended his amendment, saying a Catholic hospital probably would extend the same courtesy to a same sex couple that by right it would legally obliged to for a heterosexual couple.
“Just because we have the right to say or do something doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “With regard to a Catholic hospital I doubt very much they would prevent an individual in a relationship from discussing medical questions.”
He didn’t answer when I asked him what he would do if he were the hospital administrator. But he did when I asked if the Corvese amendment, or the man himself, were anti-gay. “Just because there are people who support traditional marriage doesn’t mean they are homophobic,” he said. “That’s just more liberal pablum forced on us by the media.”
The bill to repeal the Corvese amendment is one of three pieces of marriage equality legislation being heard by the House Judiciary Committee after the regular House session. Rep. Art Handy, a progressive Democrat from Cranston, is sponsoring a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island. And Rep. Larry Valencia, a progressive Democrat from Charlestown, has a bill that would allow same sex couples to get a divorce in Rhode Island. (Would it say something about our state if gay couples could get divorced but not married?)
None of the bills are expected to pass. Marriage Equality Rhode Island supports all three. According to Ray Sullivan, of MERI:
It’s sad that in 2012 these hearings are even necessary, but unfortunately Rhode Island is still a place where all citizens are not treated equally.
The 2012 Equality Agenda is about eliminating across the board discrimination against LGBTQ Rhode Islanders in loving, committed relationships who are seeking nothing more than equal rights, protection and recognition under the law.
With momentum growing across the country and a strong majority of Rhode Islander standing with us, we won’t stop fighting and organizing until the governor signs marriage equality into law.
Members of the General Assembly who continue to support intolerance or stand in the way of progress should be advised that they do so at their own electoral detriment.