RI Bishop Tobin says Church open to reciprocal benefits, but opposes redefining marriage


GoLocalProv believes it has discovered a new strain of Catholic teaching. Sigh. Not all rights and benefits are marital benefits, and Catholic Church leaders have always been willing to find ways to provide some practical benefits that do not compromise marriage or moral teachings on sex. Reciprocal beneficiaries was pioneered, with the consent of the Catholic church there, in Hawaii. It's not news, but it is true:

In an exclusive interview, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin said the Church is not opposed to granting some benefits and rights to gay couples—as long as the term marriage is not used.

His statement—which was couched in caveats—nonetheless indicates a flexibility in the Church’s position that has previously been overlooked in the polarizing debate over gay marriage in Rhode Island.

“The legislation we would support is what is often called ‘reciprocal benefits,’” Tobin told GoLocalProv. “It does not use marriage as a reference point. It would grant some legal benefits [and] some legal rights to two people who have some kind of established relationship without any particular reference to marriage. So it could be someone and their grandfather. Could be two cousins. Could be two elderly sisters.”

Such a bill was filed in the House in early March. The bill, sponsored by Rep Peter Petrarca, D- Lincoln, would grant about half a dozen rights and benefits to any two unmarried people, regardless of sexual orientation. If passed, it would allow one partner to make medical decisions for another, have a say over the burial and disposition of their remains, and the right to inherit property if the other partner dies.

Tobin declined to elaborate on exactly which legal benefits and rights he thought unmarried couples should have—saying that’s a question for legal experts. “People deserve human rights whether or not they’re gay,” Tobin said. “Now the reciprocal benefits [bill] recognizes some rights and some privileges irrespective of their orientation and that’s the key I think.”

Tobin said he would not go as far as supporting civil unions, saying the church is as steadfastly opposed to civil unions as it is to gay marriage.