New Connecticut law receives mixed reaction in gay community
Tony award-winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein is outraged that his home state has decided to recognize same-sex civil unions. Fierstein, an outspoken gay rights activist, said Thursday that Connecticut has hurt gays by failing to grant them full marriage rights.
"These people are traitors, and the people who pushed for civil unions against marriages are traitors to the gay community, as far as I'm concerned," Fierstein said Thursday, a day after Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed the civil unions bill into law. "This is the most un-American movement I've ever heard of."
But not all activists agree.
Seth Kilbourn, marriage project director for the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, said passage of the civil unions law is an important step for couples in Connecticut and across the country. He believes it will lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Kilbourn hopes it also will encourage other legislatures take similar action, at a time when some states are passing constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. "I think this is a very big deal," he said. "The legislature enacting a civil union law is a very important step toward the march toward full equality."
Vermont is the only other state that recognizes civil unions. It set up the system after pressure from the state courts. Neighboring Massachusetts began allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry after a court action as well. "We understand that there is an education curve going on here," said Christopher Barron, the political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group. "We understand there is a debate about what's the best way for us to recognize and protect gay and lesbian families. We know different states are going to move forward with different steps. We really think it is a mistake to underestimate or decrease the historic nature of this. For the first time in history, a state has passed
civil unions without pressure from the courts."
The new law takes effect on October 1. It extends all the rights and obligations under Connecticut law--estimated at more than 500--to those same-sex couples who want a civil union. They would not, however, be allowed to get a marriage license.
Fierstein, who has worked with the Connecticut-based Love Makes a Family to push for same-sex marriage in the state, said people who try to paint the new law as equal to marriage are wrong. The federal government, he noted, does not recognize civil unions. "In Connecticut they just passed a law saying I am less of a human being, I'm less of a citizen," he said. "How dare they."
Mary Bonauto, a lawyer with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which successfully challenged marriage laws in Massachusetts, said she agrees it is unnecessary to have two lines at the town clerk's office: one for marriages and another for civil unions. However, given the political atmosphere in the country on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Bonauto credits Connecticut for passing such a law. Earlier this month Kansas became the 18th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Thirteen other states passed such prohibitions last year.
"They've done something very significant, acknowledging gay and lesbian families are being denied important rights," Bonauto said. "Sometimes you want to take three steps forward, but you take one and a half, but you're still taking a step forward."
Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York-based Freedom to Marry organization and author of the book Why Marriage Matters, said he is disappointed that Connecticut's lawmakers didn't try harder to pass a same-sex marriage bill this year. But like Bonauto, he sees a benefit to the civil unions law. "This furthers the momentum toward marriage equality," he said. "Once people see same-sex couples accorded legal status and protections and realize that the sky didn't fall, they will soon come to understand that it makes no sense to have parallel tracks as compared to one system for everybody." (AP)