Gay Marriage Debate Hinges on Religious Exemption

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- As debate over gay marriage in Rhode Island simmers, lawmakers say the results could turn on an exemption in the bill that allows religious organizations to decide whether they will perform or recognize gay marriages.

Legislation passed by the House says religious organizations cannot be compelled to host or perform any wedding. Gay marriage opponents want to go further to prevent lawsuits against businesses like caterers and florists that refuse to provide services at a gay wedding.

The Catholic Church argues it's an issue of religious liberty -- that no one should be forced to recognize same-sex marriages or extend employment benefits to gay spouses.

But other religious leaders who support gay marriage note discrimination based on sexual orientation is already the law.

The legislation awaits action in the Senate.