Judiciary Committee approves measure, but bill’s future uncertain
HARTFORD, Conn. A bill that would make Connecticut the second state in the nation to allow gay couples to marry passed its first legislative hurdle Thursday, April 12.
The Judiciary Committee voted 27-15 to approve the bill, which next goes to the House of Representatives, where its prospects are uncertain.
Two years ago, Connecticut approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, granting them all of the state rights and privileges of married couples. But gay rights advocates called on the legislature to take the final step this session and allow gay couples to marry.
Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage, though several other states offer civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of a handful of openly gay legislators, said marriage and civil unions are not the same to Connecticut’s gay and lesbian couples.
“I suspect Don Imus knows terms matter,” said McDonald, referring to the radio talk show host under fire for racially charged remarks he recently made. “They have consequences to people in their lives, in their thoughts, in their self respect.”
It’s unclear whether the bill will move further in the legislative process this year. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the civil unions law, reiterated Thursday that she believes marriage is between one man and one woman.
Opponents of gay marriage said Connecticut, by passing the civil unions law, has already made sure that gay and lesbian couples are treated equally under state law.
“This bill would not give a couple any rights that they do not already have under the civil union legislation we passed two years ago,” said Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull. “The federal government and states that do not recognize civil unions will not recognize marriage same-sex marriages performed in Connecticut.”
Rowe said the legislation is not about civil rights, but an effort to radically redefine a basic institution in society. He said lawmakers should allow voters this fall to decide whether to change the marriage laws in a nonbinding resolution a proposal that died on a 28-13 vote.
Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, voted for civil unions in 2005. He told fellow lawmakers he’s not ready yet to support gay marriage.
“Maybe it’s my upbringing. Maybe it’s my background. I still believe marriage is between one man and one woman,” he said. “I can’t change that, at least not at this time.”
But an emotional Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said she wants lawmakers to go that next step. The freshman legislator told of how she entered a civil union with her partner in the fall of 2005. Her father, a devoted Catholic, walked her down the aisle and even lit a unity candle at the ceremony.
“My father was moved on this issue because he loved his daughter,” she said.
“He wanted me to be happy and when he comes to my house, he sees a happy family. He thinks of me as married, as much as he thinks of my six siblings as married,” Bye said. “But the broader world does not see me as married.”
Aside from changing the marriage laws to allow same-sex couples to marry, the bill would create a system that transforms existing civil unions to marriages and allows people to get out of a civil union before it becomes a marriage.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 20, 2007.