TV & Radio
A Civil Day For Gays
By DANIELA ALTIMARI
Hartford Courant Staff Writer
October 2 2005
From Hartford, where carnations and applause greeted newly joined couples, to tiny Washington, where two women who have been together for 38 years celebrated with cake and champagne, gays and lesbians ushered in Connecticut's landmark civil union law on Saturday.
"It's a historic day and we wanted to be part of it," said Lidia Agramonte, 47, who arrived at Hartford City Hall at 7:30 Saturday morning - 90 minutes before the doors opened - with her partner, Maria Gomez, 50. The New Britain couple held a small ceremony in Bushnell Park several hours later.
Hartford officials hung a rainbow flag over the entrance to city hall, set out a table laden with juice and coffee and were ready for hundreds of couples. Only 26 showed up. Among them was Art Feltman, a Democratic state representative from Hartford, and his longtime partner. The clerk's office was one of a dozen or so holding special Saturday hours to accommodate couples seeking civil union licenses on the day the law took effect.
Connecticut is the first state to grant legal recognition to gay couples without a directive from the courts. Massachusetts, which permits gays to marry, and Vermont, which authorizes civil unions, were reacting to judges' orders.
Two noon rallies outside the state Capitol protested the new law. One group felt civil unions should not be allowed and the other said that same-sex marriage should be permitted.
Inside Hartford City Hall the mood was jovial. Couples, some with children in tow, took numbers and waited their turns in the marble corridor outside the clerk's office. When a couple emerged with license in hand, they were greeted with applause and handed a red-and-white carnation.
The national press largely ignored Connecticut's historic day, in sharp contrast to the high-profile treatment given to Vermont and Massachusetts, which drew reporters from as far as Japan.
To state Rep. Michael Lawlor, one of the measure's chief proponents, the low-key reaction signifies the public's increasing level of comfort with same-sex relationships. "The big news of today is UConn beat Army, not civil unions," Lawlor, a Democrat from East Haven, said Saturday. "The people of Connecticut are comfortable with this."
It wasn't always so. Charlotte Johnson, 63, remembers a time when gays and lesbians were considered mentally ill. "We come from the era where the best thing for us was shock treatment," said Johnson, who has been with her partner, Joan Gauthey, 72, for 38 years. "We've come a long way."
On Saturday, the couple hosted a party with 200 guests in their hometown of Washington. Gauthey, a retired physical education teacher, began the festivities by blowing a coach's whistle. After Gauthey and Johnson recited vows and exchanged rings, the crowd tossed birdseed and blew bubbles. The cake, baked by a member of their church, was topped with a tiny statue of two brides.
Anne Bladen and Jill Barton of Hampton opted for a simpler celebration. They wore jeans and denim shirts as they briefly exchanged vows in the courtyard next to Hartford City Hall. Their 7-year-old son, Lucas, stood between them as Mayor Eddie Perez looked on.
"Do you, Jill, take this woman, Anne, to be your lawful joined partner, to love honor and cherish her through sickness and in health, through times of happiness and travail, until death do you part?" asked Kelvin Roldan, a justice of the peace who works in city hall.
The vows came long after the commitment. Bladen and Barton have been together for 15 years. They have weathered a major medical crisis together. They are raising a child together.
And yet, having the state's endorsement of their relationship does matter, they said. "It makes Connecticut feel like a safer place," said Bladen, standing in the warm October sunshine as Lucas chased pigeons nearby. "It's not marriage yet, but we'll take what we can get."
For many couples, the day was bittersweet. While thrilled to finally receive some legal recognition, they mourned the fact that the document they received was not a marriage license.
"It feels good but it doesn't feel like I think it will feel when we get married," Peter Tognalli of Manchester said after emerging from the city clerk's office with his partner, Bill Brindamour.
Civil unions provide many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage, but are not recognized by most other states and the federal government.
Brindamour, a retired school principal, said he was surprised by the depth of emotion he felt after receiving the civil union license. Still, he didn't cry.
"When it's marriage I'll be crying through the whole ceremony," Brindamour said. "I'll be a blubbering idiot."
To view a related video story, visit www.courant.com
Connecticut's First Same-Sex Unions Proceed Civilly
Little Hoopla Surrounds Occasion
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 2, 2005; A03
HARTFORD, Conn., Oct. 1 -- Connecticut became the third state to offer same-sex couples a legal way to unite, issuing its first licenses for "civil unions" Saturday in what seemed too low-key to be a milestone in a cultural fight that has divided the nation.
Here in Hartford -- where a rainbow flag hung outside City Hall and the clerk's office opened for special Saturday hours -- 26 couples came in to get licenses for the unions, which offer the same benefits as traditional marriage under state law.
Some, such as Pablo Santiago, 33, and Edgardo Rivera, 31, went directly to a justice of the peace and had the unions solemnized. Santiago and Rivera, of Hartford, had their ceremony in the atrium of City Hall, embracing after City Clerk Dan Carey said, "I now pronounce you partners in life."
"Wonderful," Santiago said afterward. "Everyone that's in love like we are should do the same thing."
Despite the smiles and occasional tears, this was nothing like the hoopla when Vermont began civil unions in 2000, or the midnight ceremonies that kicked off gay marriage in Massachusetts last year.
Couples acknowledged that, even as they did something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, the thrill was not there. Full-fledged marriage was the ultimate goal, and this seemed more like an intermediate step.
"It feels good, but it doesn't feel like it will when we get married," said Peter Tognalli, 52, of Manchester, Conn., who had gotten a license with Bill Brindamour, 54, his partner of 27 years.
A few blocks away, in a deserted downtown that showed few signs of anything but Saturday going on, a Reclaim Connecticut Protest on the steps of the state capitol drew a few dozen opponents of civil unions.
Brian Brown, a leading opponent of civil unions in the state, told the crowd that much more political activism would be needed to fulfill their eventual goal: a constitutional amendment eliminating same-sex unions.
"This is a tragic day for our state's children," said Brown, whose organization, the Family Institute of Connecticut, contends that children develop best in a household with heterosexual parents. "We have a lot to do and a very short time to do it."
Connecticut, which had 7,386 households with same-sex couples in the 2000 Census, was the first state whose legislature approved gay unions on its own. Vermont and Massachusetts were forced to change their laws by order of their state supreme courts. Connecticut's unions bring no benefits under federal law, which does not recognize them.
It was difficult to gauge the number of couples who received licenses Saturday because the state government and many town halls were closed for the weekend. A spokesman for another large city, New Haven, said his town hall had been open but also was hardly overwhelmed: Ten couples applied for licenses.
The law here also includes a provision, added to satisfy conservatives, that explicitly defines the term "marriage" as only between a man and a woman.
The beginning of unions here comes at a polarized time in the national debate over same-sex marriage. Dozens of states have explicitly banned it, and opposition to same-sex unions in these areas has been credited with fueling conservative political strength.
But, in a few pockets of the country, proponents of same-sex nuptials feel they have the momentum. One such place is California, where legislators had approved same-sex marriage before the bill was vetoed last Thursday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).
Another is here in the Northeast. The feeling among many gay and lesbian couples in Connecticut is that same-sex marriage will be a reality here very shortly -- perhaps because of a pending court case similar to the one that set off the changes in Massachusetts.
"The classic American pattern of civil rights advance is a patchwork" of change state by state, said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York-based group Freedom to Marry.
As this larger debate was taking place, in recent weeks Connecticut had focused on the mundane bureaucratic and ceremonial details of creating a new kind of romantic union.
There was confusion among justices of the peace, who would perform many of these ceremonies. They complained that they did not know what to say at the end: I now pronounce you -- what? United? Civilized?
Government had not quite worked out all the kinks, either, as was obvious when, at 9:30 a.m. (30 minutes later than scheduled), city officials beckoned Lidia Agramonte, 47, and Maria Gomez, 50, of New Britain, Conn., into the clerk's office.
The pair had been waiting outside City Hall since 7:30 a.m. Soon, they would wait some more, while clerks figured out how to feed their forms -- so new they were not in the computer system -- through a typewriter.
Then came the typos: two of them, each necessitating a delay while clerks blotted out the errors, then waved the forms to get them dry.
And then, with TV cameras rolling, Assistant Registrar Tanya Rivera stumbled on the unfamiliar wording, first asking where the partners were going to be "married."
She corrected herself: "unionized."
But Gomez had a quip ready.
"I'll take marriage," she said.