At least Gov. Lincoln Chafee had the decency to be embarrassed about signing the civil unions bill, doing the deed on the Saturday of the long holiday weekend when people were thinking about cookouts and fireworks and having Monday off and werenât there to point their fingers at him and say âShame on you.â
The governor issued a signing statement to explain itself that, with a different opening sentence, could have served quite admirably as a veto message.
Nobody loves a compromise, but civil unions are a very serviceable compromise to obtain rights and responsibilities for same-sex couples in a political atmosphere where full marriage equality wasnât going to happen. The civil unions bill as written by Lincoln Rep. Peter Petrarca was exceptionally good legislation that deftly handled an emotionally charged issue. It delicately balanced the interests of gay couples with the sensibilities of a legislature (and electorate) not quite ready for a radical upheaval of societal norms.
But the bill that emerged from the House and Senate was fatally flawed, because the House appended to it an intolerable abomination that has come to be known as the Corvese amendment, named for its author, North Providence Rep. Arthur Corvese.
In his signing statement, Chafee called the Corvese amendment âa religious exemption of unparalleled and alarming scope.â He acknowledged that, âThis extraordinary exemption eviscerates the important rights that enacting a civil union law was meant to guarantee for same sex couples in the first place.â
Exactly! So what is he doing signing an evisceration of important rights into law?
MERI (Marriage Equality Rhode Island) and other homosexual rights groups are mealy-mouthing about coming back next year and pushing for a full gay marriage bill for as long as it takes. Good, but not enough.
The bill as it stands must be challenged in court, post haste, because no judge worth his or her salt will allow that travesty to stand.
The Corvese amendment is the moral equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Courtâs pre-civil war Dred Scott decision. It says that same-sex couples have no rights that people who claim to be religious are bound to respect.
It is now the black-letter law of the State of Rhode Island that âno religious or denominational organization, no organization operated for charitable or educational purpose which is supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, and no individual employed by any of the foregoing organizations, while acting in the scope of that employment,â is required to even treat a civil union as valid. They are, in effect, exempted from obeying the law,
The Ku Klux Klan claims to be a Christian organization, which civil rights laws should we empower them to ignore?
Unfortunately, the courts are going to tell us that an actual couple in a civil union who were actually discriminated against under the provisions of the bill would have to bring the suit for it to have proper âstanding.â
But in practical application, that awful amendment diminishes all of us. For the first time, we have civil rights legislation that has an asterisk after it. At the bottom of the page, there is an explanation that says if you can concoct a religious basis for your bigotry and desire to discriminate against homosexuals, then never mind any of this, it doesnât apply to you.
Under the First Amendment, it is pretty clear that a priest, or minister or rabbi could not be forced to officiate at a civil union ceremony, and that is made clear in the legislation. But to say a religiously-affiliated hospital is not required to allow one partner in a civil union to make medical decisions for the other, or even have visitation rights, is unacceptable. For a religiously-affiliated cemetery to be legally allowed to deny civil union partners the right to be buried side-by-side is intolerable.
All churches and religions are, and should be, protected in the âfree exerciseâ of their particular tenets. But once a religious organization goes into business to serve the public, they must be bound to respect the legal and civil rights of those with whom they do business.
The supporters of the Corvese amendment tacitly acknowledged its blatant unconstitutionality by bringing up the idea of an âinseverability clause.â Almost all of the legislation passed by the General Assembly has what is called a âseverability clause,â that says, in effect, that if any part of the legislation is found to be unconstitutional or is otherwise struck down, that would not affect the legislation as a whole, or any other part.
Some lawmakers, including Coventry Sen. Glenford Shibley, said they wanted to turn that on its head and include an âinseverability clauseâ so that if the Corvese amendment were tossed out by a court, the rest of the civil unions law would go out the window with it. That is a clear indication of what lawyers call âguilty knowledge.â
Some couple in a civil union is going to have to put themselves in the path of religious discrimination and take the matter to court if Rhode Island is going to expunge this stain of bigotry from its law books
Common sense vs. the law
Common sense will tell you that Casey Anthony probably murdered her toddler, Caylee.
But common sense and probably donât cut the mustard in a criminal trial. That is why that Florida jury is to be applauded for putting aside what for many of them must have been every instinct in their body and upholding the law, holding Anthony not guilty because the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she killed her daughter.
The prosecution could not say with any certainty how the little girl died. It could not say for sure when she died. It could not say how she wound up in garbage bags in a swampy area. How did they possibly expect to establish the guilt of anyone beyond a reasonable doubt?
They didnât think they had to. Prosecutors thought that all they had to do was establish that Anthony did not report her daughter missing or dead for 31 days and that she was partying, drinking and dancing during that time and the jury would fill in the blanks.
But it is not the juryâs job to fill in the blanks. It is their job to determine whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey killed Caylee, which the prosecutors manifestly did not do.
This was not some runaway O.J. California jury that acquitted the defendant because they liked him and didnât trust the police who were accusing him.
This was a jury of solid Florida citizens who were deciding the fate of one of the most distinctly unlikeable defendant since Jeffrey Dahmer, and still they held the government to the high standard it must meet before it can put someone in jail or, in this instance, put her to death.
Yes, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but, like the cod liver oil Governor Chafee likes to talk about, we are all better off for it.