Connecticut begins debate on civil unions

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 18 2002 12:00 AM ET

A top lawmaker in Connecticut said Monday that he believes the state's general assembly will take another step early next year toward providing legal recognition of same-sex unions in the state. "I think something will happen," said Rep. Michael Lawlor, cochairman of the general assembly's judiciary committee. He did not provide specifics. "One way or another the legislature will debate this," the East Haven Democrat said following a public hearing on the matter. "There's no question public opinion is shifting."

Lawlor, who backs legal recognition of same-sex relationships, chaired the hearing, which drew fewer than a dozen committee members, as the legislature was preparing for the start of a special session Wednesday to close the state's $500 million budget deficit. Three lawyers discussed the legal issues confronting lawmakers. Joshua K. Baker, a lawyer with the Marriage Law Project at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., urged legislators to act before the courts take any action. "Activist groups have said that they favor litigation aimed at securing recognition of same-sex marriage where they are unable to do so legislatively," he said. "This scenario is particularly troubling because it could lead to the radical redefinition of Connecticut's marriage law, not by the Connecticut legislature but by the courts or legislature of another state." Connecticut is one of 14 states that have not enacted legislation addressing unions or marriages between gay people that might be recognized by another jurisdiction, Baker said.

Maureen Murphy, a New Haven lawyer, said numerous Connecticut superior court decisions have held that same-sex couples and their children constitute a family unit for family law purposes. Mary Bonauto, civil rights director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said the prohibition is outdated. "It does not make any sense anymore from a public policy standpoint," she said. "There is no legitimate public policy to continue excluding same-sex couples from marriage."

Legislation enacted earlier this year in Connecticut allows a person to legally designate another person to make medical decisions and end-of-life choices, such as organ donation and life support. The bill also allows for private visits in nursing homes and requires employers to allow emergency phone calls from the legally designated person. The measure was a compromise of earlier proposals for outright civil unions and marriage. It required the judiciary committee to study the issue of marriage and civil unions and submit a report in January.