Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed legislation into law Saturday that grants same sex couples all of the rights afforded to married couples, but without the historical and religious meaning associated with the word marriage.

Chafee signed the bill despite expressing his concern that it treats the relationships of same sex couples differently than the relationships of opposite sex couples. He also expressed his displeasure with a religious exception that allows religious organizations or their employees to refuse to recognize civil unions.

"As a result, a party to a civil union could be denied the right to make medical decisions for his or her partner, denied access to health insurance benefits, denied property rights in adjoining burial plots or denied family memberships at religiously-affiliated community centers," Chafee wrote in a letter he drafted after signing the legislation.

"If religiously-affiliated hospitals, cemeteries, schools and community centers refuse to treat civil unions as valid, it would significantly harm civil union partners by failing to protect their medical, physical and commercial interests at critical moments in their lives."

The signing of the bill comes a week after New York became the seventh state to legalize same sex marriages.

Civil unions have been approved in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey.