Julie A. Weisberg
Equal marriage advocates are gearing up for
what could be an intense battle over a proposed bill to extend marriage rights
to Connecticut's same-sex couples.
If successful, the bill — which has yet to
be drafted, but is expected to be filed with the General Assembly's judiciary
committee later this month by Democratic state Senator Andrew McDonald and Representative
Michael Lawlor — would be the first time a state legislature has considered
and passed equal marriage legislation without pressure from a state court system.
unions are pointedly, deliberately not marriage. It is a withholding of
the vocabulary, the symbolism — the rich emotional resonance — and the
clarity, that everyone knows what it is, that come only with marriage,
and not civil unions. There is only one system in the country, and it
Freedom To Marry
McDonald and Lawlor, who both serve in the
state assembly as openly gay men, are the Democratic co-chairs of the judiciary
Equal marriage advocates in the New England
state say while it's still too early to say for sure, they do think that the
bill will have enough votes for approval in the state legislature.
"These things have a life of their own and
the momentum will build," Anne Stanback, executive director of the Connecticut
marriage equality coalition Love Makes a Family (LMF), told PageOneQ Friday.
"It will be a push, but I think we've got a shot."
Connecticut Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell,
however, who signed the state's same-sex civil union bill into law in 2005,
has threatened to veto any equal marriage legislation that reaches her desk.
But Stanback said she thinks that if the
governor were to meet "with the people who would be affected by the law," she
could be swayed to move away from her promise of a veto.
"I think we can get her to change her mind,"
Stanback said, adding that "history will look back favorably" on the Rell if
she were to sign the equal marriage bill into law.
"This is a legitimate civil rights movement,"
Stanback said. "And we will keep submitting this until we win."
Same-sex marriage opponents appear to be
equally committed in their quest to stop the passage of any civil marriage legislation
Both sides of the marriage debate held a
rally in the state capital of Hartford on Jan 31 to kick off their campaigns.
And the two groups also plan to hold rallies at the state capital later this
month. LMF will meet at the state capital for a special lobbying day on Feb.
21. And the grassroots organization will also hold its annual fundraiser "Eat,
Drink and Be Married" — which features residents hosting individual dinner parties
for friends and family members — on March 21.
The opponents, led by Brian Brown of the
Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), have also begun to mobilize state-wide
in hopes of killing the new bill.
Brown has called for the state's constitution
to be amended to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. He
has also demanded Connecticut lawmakers allow residents to vote in a statewide,
non-binding referendum on gay marriage. The FIC did not immediately respond
to an e-mailed interview request for this article.
In addition, many equal marriage
opponents have argued that since state civil marriage licenses would
not be recognized by the federal government, same-sex couples would
not gain any additional benefits over those now granted through Connecticut's
civil union law.
update from New Jersey
nearby New Jersey, equal marriage advocates there are keeping a close
eye on the events in Connecticut.
And Steven Goldstein, board chair of the LGBT rights grass roots organization
Garden State Equality (GSE), told PageOneQ that there is a chance New
Jersey and not Connecticut, might end up being the second state after
Massachusetts to pass a same-sex marriage bill into law.
New Jersey passed
a same-sex civil unions law late last year. Same-sex couples there will
be able to file for a civil union for the first time beginning Feb. 19.
But according to Goldstein, New Jersey lawmakers have acknowledged that
civil unions fall short of marriage equality. In fact, GSE’s Web
site says the state has created a commission to look into the inequality
between civil unions and civil marriage for same-sex couple.
Because of this
momentum and lawmaker support, marriage advocates feel it is possible
to pass an equal marriage bill through the New Jersey state legislature
within the next two years.
Goldstein pointed out that both houses of New Jersey’s state legislature
are controlled by Democrats who are expected to support a civil marriage
legislation. And, unlike Connecticut’s Gov. Rell, New Jersey Gov.
Jon Corzine has said he would sign an equal marriage bill if it reaches
“In New Jersey,
we are uniquely positioned,” he said of equal marriage success.
“We have all the ingredients here.”
But Stanback said this is not a valid reason
to deny same-sex couple marriage equality.
"While it's true couples — after we gain
equal marriage in Connecticut — won't immediately get federal rights and protections,
they will have standing to challenge the so-called [federal] Defense of Marriage
Act. And, this is just the first step, it will probably take years for that
federal law to be ruled as unconstitutional, which we believe it will, but this
is the first step," Stanback explained. "The other reason is the issue of equal
treatment under the law. The word ‘marriage' is significant, universally understood.
It has meaning for same-sex couples as it does for heterosexual couples ...
and we are saying we should be treated equally, and take down the barriers that
Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director
of the national equal marriage organization Freedom to Marry, agreed.
"Civil unions are pointedly, deliberately
not marriage. It is a withholding of the vocabulary, the symbolism — the rich
emotional resonance — and the clarity, that everyone knows what it is, that
come only with marriage, and not civil unions," Wolfson said. "There is only
one system in the country, and it is marriage."
He added that while same-sex civil unions
are "better than nothing," they fall far short of the "more easily understood
system" of civil marriages.
"It all comes down to one question: Either
civil unions and marriage are the same, in which case why do we need two lines
at the clerk's office, or they are not the same, in which case, what is the
government withholding, and why should it," Wolfson said. "And I think our opponents
have no answer to that question."
Freedom to Marry Week
All next week, same-sex couples and equal
marriage supporters will hold events to take part in "Freedom to Marry Week,"
which runs from Feb. 11 to Feb. 17 — with "Freedom to Marry Day" on Feb. 12.
The week-long celebration, began 10 years ago when Wolfson and other gay marriage
activists were looking for a way to encourage gay and lesbians to reach out
to others, particularly the non-gay people in their lives, to talk about why
the freedom to marry matters, why its denial is wrong, and to ask for their
Wolfson said they specifically chose the
February time period to allow organizers to hold events in conjunction with
Lincoln's birthday and Valentines Day, "to reflect the ideas of equality and
love, which adds up to the freedom to marry."
"And it's been quite successful in triggering
hundreds of hundreds of events all across the country, in which people take
action. Of course, every week needs to be freedom to marry week until we have
won the freedom to marry. It doesn't stop on Feb. 17," he said. "But, it is
another opportunity to have the all important conversations that help people
move toward fairness."
Two tracts to equality
Carisa Cunningham, public affairs director
of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), said the move to introduce
and pass same-sex marriage legislation at the state level is an important tract
toward equal marriage's success, and runs parallel to the movement's well-publicized
legal victories and ongoing court cases.
"We support both tracts," she said.
GLAD, which filed and won the lawsuit that
led to Vermont's civil unions law in 2000, has appealed a decision by Connecticut's
New Haven Superior Court in the equal marriage lawsuit Kerrigan and Mock v.
Department of Public Health.
The court ruled last July that the exclusion
of same-sex couples from marriage does not constitute a violation of the state's
constitution since, the court argued, there are no meaningful differences between
marriage and civil unions. GLAD originally filed the lawsuit in August 2004
on behalf of eight couples who were denied marriage licenses.
In its appeal, GLAD lawyers have
argued that "the denial of marriage by the 2005 civil union law is
arbitrary and fails to provide gay and lesbian citizens with the equal
treatment the constitution requires," according to a press release
posted on its Web site.
Cunningham, however, is optimistic that the
GLAD appeal will be successful.
"We're lucky to live in New
England, (whose residents are) open to discussion and willing to make
the change," she said.
Wolfson said the equal marriage and civil
union gains in New England states have been important steps toward the movement's
ultimate goal of federal same-sex marriage rights.
"It helps the American people see with their
own eyes that nobody's hurt and nothing is taken away — the gays don't use up
all the licenses — but, some families are better off," he said. "And so, it
puts the lie to the right-wing's gloom and doom. And it gets people more used
to the idea that lets them think anew and move toward fairness. It is very important."
Wolfson added, however, that New Englanders
must not get complacent. And that they have an important role to play in the
continuing struggle for LGBT rights.
"I think that it's terrific that the legislative
leaders in Connecticut are now planning to finish the job of providing full
security and respect to the committed same-sex couples and their kids in Connecticut
... New England, historically a leader in liberty, must not stop short of finishing
the job. New England needs to provide the example. And the right thing to do
is to end the discrimination in marriage," Wolfson said.