They are fiercely divided on the issue, but activists at opposing rallies at the Connecticut state capitol on Sunday had something in common: Neither side was pleased that the state will sanction same-sex civil unions.
About 3,000 opponents gathered on the capitol steps to call attention to lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation and urge people to vote against them in the next election.
Meanwhile, about 80 gay rights activists took part in a mock wedding ceremony, complete with marriage licenses, and criticized civil unions as second-class citizenship.
Republican governor M. Jodi Rell signed legislation last week that will create same-sex civil unions in Connecticut, making the state the first in the nation to do so without pressure from the courts. The law, which takes effect in October, also defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, urged opponents of the civil unions law in next year's elections to vote against lawmakers who supported it. "Civil unions are merely a stepping stone to redefining marriage," he said at Sunday's rally. "Anyone who voted for this bill voted for same-sex marriage."
Jennifer Saylor's Sunday school class at the Church of Christ in Winsted helped her make a sign that read, "We have the right to vote."
"We don't forget. We don't forget how God saved us and delivered us," said Saylor, a 33-year-old mother of two. "My electricity doesn't work with same unions. It's not going to work for families either."
Brian Mock, 46, of Griswold, held a sign chastising Rell for signing the legislation. Reaching high above a crowd of thousands booing the governor, his sign read, "Truth is not RELL-ative." He said he had little hope that lawmakers would repeal the civil unions statute but said they need to know voters are watching. "I do believe in stepping up for what you believe," he said, "because God is looking down at what you are doing."
At the mock wedding ceremony for same-sex couples, set among the tulip gardens on the capitol lawn, many said they were happy the state approved civil unions but wished lawmakers had given gays and lesbians full marriage rights. "The reason I don't really feel like thanking them is because they created a state of segregation," said Rebecca Lewis, 23, of the International Socialist Organization's New Haven chapter.
Janet Peck and Carol Conklin of Colchester, plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit challenging the state's marriage laws, said they had not decided if they will get a civil union; they've always dreamed of marriage. "We just see ourselves holding hands, looking into each others' eyes, pledging our love and commitment," said Peck, standing next to her partner. "It's a vision we've had for 29 years."
Capitol police had extra forces out Sunday to maintain order at the rallies. One man was detained at about 3 P.M. after trying to approach the rally against civil unions and mouthing off, said capitol police chief William Morgan. It was unclear if the man would be charged. (AP)