Rhode Island governor set to sign controversial civil unions bill

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to New Jersey, rather than Rhode Island. We apologise to readers for the error.

Rhode Island’s Senate has approved a civil unions bill for gay couples and state governor Lincoln Chafee is set to sign it.

The bill was approved last night by 21-16, after it was voted out of committee stage.

Mr Chafee, who called the bill an “incremental step” towards marriage equality, is set to sign it but has been urged not to sign it by gay rights campaigners.

While supporters of civil unions say the bill offers all the rights of marriage, one clause allows any religious body – including faith-run schools, hospitals and cemeteries – to disregard civil unions.

The clause says they – or their employees – cannot be fined or penalised for failing to recognise civil unions or provide goods and services in relation to civil unions.

Gay rights activists say the “dangerous” and “discriminatory” amendment will have severe consequences for gay people, who may find they are barred from making medical decisions for spouses if faith-run hospitals decide not to recognise civil unions.