While same-sex marriage supporters said the bill would merely legalize treatment of gay couples as a second-class minority, proponents of one-man, one-woman marriage said the bill would amount to a state sanction of immoral behavior and open the door to same-sex marriage being approved in the courts.
What differed from the earlier hearing, on a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage, was that this time just about everybody was there to voice opposition.
The civil unions bill — which would grant same-sex couples all of the rights and benefits given to married couples under Rhode Island law — was introduced after House Speaker Gordon Fox (D-Providence), who is openly gay, announced that a gay marriage bill lacked the votes to pass this year.
Same-sex marriage supporters argued that if the Defense of Marriage Act — already ruled unconstitutional in federal court — is eventually overturned, same-sex couples in Rhode Island who have entered into civil unions will not have the same federal rights as married couples.
There are 1,138 federal laws and programs that apply to people who are married, which married same-sex couples do not currently enjoy, due to DOMA.
The House Judiciary Committee could vote as early as next week on whether to send the measure to the full House.