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July 29, 2005
Connecticut gay couples continue push for marriage rights
Connecticut's decision to legalize same-sex civil unions is the basis for a lawsuit that seeks to force the state to allow full marriage rights for gay couples. Lawmakers legalized civil unions earlier this year, granting gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as married couples but denying them the ability to wed.
Eight couples argue in a brief filed Thursday in New Haven superior court that if the state is willing to grant same-sex couples all the legal rights and privileges of marriage, it has no reason to bar them from actually marrying. "The civil union law undercuts any rationale the state ever could have had for denying marriage," said Ben Klein, a senior attorney with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. The group successfully challenged marriage laws in Massachusetts, which now allows same-sex couples to marry.
The eight couples sued the state Department of Public Health and the town of Madison after they were denied marriage licenses there last year. They claim their rights to equality and liberty under the state constitution have been violated because they can't marry, and they say they will use the debate over civil unions to bolster that claim. "The reality is that civil unions are not equal," Klein said. "Marriage is a unique legal and cultural institution. It has no substitute. It has no equivalent."
State attorney general Richard Blumenthal, who is defending the Department of Public Health in the lawsuit, said in a statement that he will respond to the couples' brief after his office has had a chance to review it. "The civil union law will not assist the challenge in the way the plaintiffs contend," Blumenthal said. "The state has the right and authority to define marriage, as it has done, consistent with state and federal constitutions, and the civil union law does not undermine the state's ability to do so."
The law that created civil unions also defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes same-sex marriage, said his group had predicted that proponents would use civil unions as a springboard for a court push. "Any legislator who voted for civil unions thinking it was going to stop there was dead wrong," he said. "The normal means of foisting same-sex marriage on the public in America isn't through a vote, isn't through the normal channels of democracy. It's through the court."
Connecticut was the first state to voluntarily provide far-reaching legal benefits to same-sex couples. Vermont recognizes civil unions, and Massachusetts has same-sex marriage, but those laws were enacted only after court fights. Several of the couples involved in the Connecticut lawsuit said Thursday that they do not intend to enter into civil unions when they become legal on October 1. "We really believe marriage best reflects what we've had together. We have a deep love and commitment, and civil unions don't reflect that," said Janet Peck of Colchester. She and her partner, Carol Conklin, will celebrate their 30th anniversary later this year. "Civil unions just kind of feel like you're not good enough," Conklin added.
Other couples, such as Jeffrey Busch and Stephen Davis of Wilton, will apply for a civil union, albeit reluctantly. They feel they cannot pass up the legal protections the arrangement will provide—such as the right to sue for wrongful death and the ability to file taxes jointly—but they do not plan a celebration. "Civil unions are humiliating. We're embarrassed by it," Busch said. "We will in essence be agreeing to be officially marginalized. I'm very hopeful that is a temporary step on our way to being considered a full family deserving the same respect as other families." (AP)