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October 1, 2005
Day Arrives for Recognition of Gay Unions in Connecticut
By WILLIAM YARDLEY New York Times
HARTFORD, Sept. 30 - Anne Bailey, 72, and Betty Palmer, 66, fell in love canoeing in Canada seven years ago and now have an engraved metal sign in their driveway with prominent lettering, "Bailey Palmer."
Their friends, JoAn Smith, 66, and Marilyn Ottone, 57, occasional guests at cocktail hour in the comfortable Bailey Palmer house, in the woods of rural New Hartford, have been open about their relationship since it began in 1974.
Yet for all the years of commitment between the two couples, now retired, they do not plan to take the newest legal step for gay couples, entering civil unions, which Connecticut begins recognizing on Saturday, the second state to do so, after Vermont.
"For many of our friends who are gay, this is not a significant event in their lives," said Ms. Smith, 66, a retired manager for an insurance company. "It doesn't mean that I can now claim Marilyn as a dependent. It doesn't mean that I can leave her my money without consequence. It doesn't give me the same rights as the average American."
None of the four reject civil unions on principle or say they would refuse anything less than full gay marriage, which is legal next door in Massachusetts. Instead, after years of devotion to each other, they say they are emotionally secure in their relationships regardless of legal recognition. And on a practical level, the women echo the uncertainty that legal experts say surrounds state civil unions: What, exactly, are the benefits?
Not everyone is spending time worrying. Beginning Saturday, town clerks in some of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns will keep their offices open to accept applications for civil unions. The rest will begin accepting applications on Monday. Some gay partners, including a state lawmaker, are planning Saturday ceremonies in parks, churches and city halls.
Even those like Ms. Bailey and Ms. Smith who are not planning civil unions see them as progress. "It's remarkable that we've come from the days that we spent in coal-black bars in Provincetown to the light of day," Ms. Smith said.
But the new law, which effectively grants gay couples every state right and benefit that married couples receive, does not resolve many major questions, including how gay couples will be treated in other states, what their status is under federal law, which does not recognize gay unions, and whether it is financially wise to legally unite.
"Everybody's amazed at the complexities that this law will present," said Brad Gallant, an estate lawyer with Day, Berry & Howard, which has set up an estate-planning group for same-sex couples.
In April, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, approved the law, making Connecticut the second state to approve civil unions and the first to do so without court pressure. Massachusetts, after a 2003 court decision, began allowing gays to marry. California has a broad domestic partnership law, though last month Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a gay marriage bill passed by the State Legislature.
It is unclear what rights will cross state lines. Some experts believe that Vermont, which approved civil unions in 2000 after a lawsuit, and Connecticut will be "reciprocal," that each state will recognize a civil union from the other. But Connecticut does not recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts.
Within the state, the new law will ensure a broad range of rights. Gay partners can serve as conservators of their partners' estates; they can receive state tax deductions if they inherit money from their partners; they can be assured of hospital visiting rights; they can file joint state income tax returns and take the same deductions married couples do.
Yet most of the largest tax benefits from inheritance and income are federal, leaving what Mr. Gallant called a "huge inequality."
The status of gay parents may also not change. In 2000, the state made it easier for same-sex couples to adopt children, and some experts say that status as an adoptive parent may carry more force than a civil union license, particularly if the child was born before the civil union occurred.
"Parents who've already gone through those adoptions are not going to gain anything else, perhaps," said Carolyn Kaas, a law professor at Quinnipiac University, which held a seminar in Hamden on Friday to explore the legal questions of civil unions.
An advocacy group, Love Makes a Family, says it plans to continue its push for gay marriage in Connecticut. But even gay marriage within the state would leave questions.
"Until the federal government is willing to define relationships by state law, we're not going to fully achieve equality for same-sex couples," Ms. Kaas said.
Even with so many uncertainties, many gay couples plan to "get civilized," as some are calling the unions. Art Feltman, a state representative from Hartford, said he was planning to be united with his partner of 25 years at a ceremony at Hartford City Hall on Saturday.
And Chelsea Turner, a lobbyist who helped push the civil union bill through the legislature this spring, said she and her partner are having a ceremony, "kind of a renewal of vows if you will," in Elizabeth Park, which straddles the border between Hartford and West Hartford. A year ago, in the same place, they declared their commitment before 120 guests.
"We've talked about starting a family, and it will no doubt add a comfort that we would not have had," Ms. Turner said of the new law. "I guess it's not about any one individual right or responsibility. It's more about being able to say to a principal when you pick your kid up at school, 'I'm little Johnny's parent' and to not be questioned about that."
Celebration, confusion as Connecticut recognizes civil unions
By Susan Haigh, Associated Press Writer | September 30, 2005
HARTFORD, Conn. --Connecticut joins Vermont on Saturday as the only states offering same-sex civil unions, but the day may pass with only a few raised glasses of champagne as the first gay couples exchange vows.
Because Oct. 1 falls on a Saturday, only a handful of town clerks' offices plan to be open. Gay rights activists know of some planned ceremonies that day -- including one officiated by Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, who's running for governor -- but don't know how many couples will race to apply for civil unions.
"Saturday is going to be a landmark day in the civil rights movement in Connecticut," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, one of a handful of openly gay legislators in Connecticut's General Assembly.
But the law is also creating confusion with some employers who will be required to extend health benefits to same-sex couples.
"I think employers are going to start getting requests (for benefits) as soon as Monday. And they're not prepared," said Bruce Barth, an employee benefits attorney at Robinson and Cole in Hartford.
Connecticut's law passed in April, making it the first state to recognize same-sex unions without court intervention. Laws in Vermont and Massachusetts, which allows gay couples to marry, were created as a result of legal action. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger followed through on his promise Thursday to veto a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Connecticut will recognize Vermont's civil unions but officials are still researching other states' domestic partnership laws and civil unions granted in foreign countries. But it will not recognize same-sex marriages because its law specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, a distinction that angers some couples.
Town clerks and justices of the peace spent the past few weeks learning the ins and outs of civil unions. The justices, who are not required to perform civil unions, have been encouraged to conclude civil union ceremonies by pronouncing couples "partners in life" rather than husband and wife. They were also reminded that heterosexual couples aren't eligible for civil unions.
The 2000 U.S. Census found about 7,400 same-sex couples in Connecticut, but there's no way to know how many might seek civil unions.
Town clerks say they'll be prepared for whoever shows up.
"We're ready," said Sandra Hutton, president of the Connecticut Town Clerk's Association. "We have the proper documentation. We won't have any problems at all."
Civil unions will give same-sex couples the same legal protections that married couples enjoy, including spousal health care benefits. However, they will not be subject to any of the federal laws pertaining to married couples because the federal government defines a spouse as someone of the opposite gender.
Experts said the business community may face the biggest adjustment as Connecticut's law takes effect, especially when state and federal laws overlap.
Bonnie Stewart, vice president and counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said she believes civil unions won't be as confusing as some fear. Employers should just follow the rule that, "if you offer it to married couples, yes, now you have to offer it to a civil union couple," she said.
But health insurance for civil partners will be taxed by the federal government as income because couples are not considered married under federal law. That means a civil union partner's taxable income for state purposes will be different from the taxable income reported on their W-2 form.
"There is certainly a level of complexity that benefit administrators are going to have to deal with," said Michael Dimenstein, director of compensation and benefits for the Yale-New Haven Health System.
Opponents are lobbying for a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage when the General Assembly goes back into session next year. A rally is scheduled Saturday.
Meanwhile, arguments are scheduled for January in a lawsuit brought by eight same-sex Connecticut couples who want to force the state to allow them full marriage rights.
But for couples like Chris and Scott Emmerson-Pace, Saturday will be a day of celebration. The Monroe couple plans to apply for their license in Kent and have their ceremony that day before hosting a reception in their home.
"We've been waiting 14 years, so we didn't want to wait any longer," said Chris Emmerson-Pace, 36, a teacher. "We also wanted to do it right on Oct. 1 just to send the message to the state that we respect what they're doing."
Associated Press reporter Cara Rubinsky contributed to this report.