Since last June Rhode Island has had a civil union law that grants homosexual couples “all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities” that have traditionally been assigned to marriage between one man and one woman.
Yet just months after the civil union law's passage, the same-sex marriage lobby is now joining efforts with the American Civil Liberties Union in declaring the civil union law "virtually useless."
Even though only 46 same-sex civil unions have taken place in Rhode Island since the law's passage, the ACLU and their homosexual marriage allies in the Rhode Island General Assembly want to amend the law they believe is "unacceptable" and “virtually useless." State Rep. Frank G. Ferri (D-Warwick) and State Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) last month introduced legislation that would remove the religious exemption, often called the Corvese Amendment, from the civil union law. Rather predictably these advocates of homosexual marriage suggest that the amended law provides adequate protection as it would not force religious institutions from having to perform civil union ceremonies. Of course, this type of protection simply restates the First Amendment right that already allows for the free exercise of religion in the United States.
Religious Freedom is not merely limited to a worshipping community gathering once a week on the Sabbath, but also includes the freedom of religious institutions to freely follow the tenets of their faith in the public square. If the civil law is to be amended, it must be changed to further strengthen religious liberty by also including the legal protection of individual conscience rights and exempt people of faith who reject the redefinition of marriage from having to violate their conscience.
It is clear that behind this seemingly benign bill is actually a sinister attempt to punish religious institutions like the Catholic Church that dare to stand in support of marriage as only between a man and a woman. Removing the Corvese Amendment from the civil union law would only lead to the persecution and perhaps even the prosecution of religious institutions that refuse to endorse social experiments like homosexual marriage or civil unions. The Corvese Amendment must not be removed as it provides protection for religious institutions and recognizes the long held principle of freedom of religion — rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The watered down version offered by Rep. Ferri and Sen. Miller that redundantly provides for freedom of worship is clearly unacceptable because it lacks any real protection for religious organizations and individual consciences.
President Thomas Jefferson understood this notion of freedom and suggested that "freedom of religion" is one of the principles that formed "the bright constellation which has gone before us."
We hope the Rhode Island General Assembly rejects this blatant attempt to unjustly dim the constellation of authentic freedom of religion in the Ocean State by those that misconstrue and manipulate real freedoms to suit their radical social and political agenda. Those legislators who truly understand the real meaning of religious freedom must reject this legislation that is a poor substitute for authentic religious liberty.