Connecticut civil unions go into effect Saturday

Connecticut on Saturday becomes the second state, after Vermont, to offer same-sex civil unions, but the scarcity of town clerks' offices being open over the weekend will probably result in only a few gay and lesbian couples exchanging vows.

BY admin

September 30 2005 11:00 PM ET

Connecticut on
Saturday becomes the second state, after Vermont,
to offer 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 October 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 Democratic state
senator Andrew McDonald, 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 workers' same-sex partners. "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 Connecticut will not
recognize same-sex marriages because its law specifies
that marriage is the union of 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 Clerks 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 businesses 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 same-sex 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 plan 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 October 1 just to send the message to the state
that we respect what they're doing." (AP)

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