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Rhode Island governor signs civil unions bill despite calls for veto

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Saturday signed into law Rhode Island's new civil unions bill, despite calls from a number of LGBT civil rights groups to veto it.

Although he supports same-sex marriage, Chafee nonetheless signed the civil unions bill, saying he did so with "reservations" but wanted to make sure that gay and lesbian couples would be afforded "tangible rights and benefits" granted to opposite-sex couples.

Like the LGBT civil rights groups, Chafee pointed out two flaws in the civil unions bill: religious bodies can choose not to recognize civil unions and the new law does not provide full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

American Civil Liberties Union, Family Equality Council, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Freedom to Marry, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force all signed a letter to Chafee last week asking for a veto.

The LGBT civil rights groups argued that the law contains a provision that would allow religious organizations and their employees to disregard couples’ civil union status, creating unprecedented, onerous and discriminatory hurdles for same-sex couples seeking to take care of one another.

Rhode Island will now join Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey in allowing civil unions.

Same-sex marriage has been approved in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont as well as the District of Columbia.

Thirty-nine states currently discriminate against same-sex couples by banning marriage equality.