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Same-sex marriage debate resumes in Connecticut

Same-sex marriage debate resumes in Connecticut

The battle over same-sex marriage is set to resume at the Connecticut state capitol, and gay rights activists say this session they want the big prize: marriage. Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, said her group has no plans to lobby for civil unions, a legal institution that parallels marriage but offers none of its federal benefits. She said it makes no sense when one takes into account that gay and lesbian couples in neighboring Massachusetts can say "I do." "We don't support civil union," Stanback said. "We have an example of full equality just a short drive from our doorstep. Same-sex couples have now been marrying in Massachusetts for over six months, and the only result is safer, more protected families." Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said he believes his group and others can successfully block a marriage bill or a civil union bill if the majority of Connecticut voters get involved and call their legislators. Some same-sex marriage foes, including Brown, believe an amendment to the state's constitution is needed to stop same-sex marriage in Connecticut. Such an amendment, however, would need to be approved by the voters. "This isn't a partisan issue. Democrats, Republicans, black, white, Hispanic--in any category of American life, people support protecting marriage," Brown said. "If we can get a vote of the people, I feel very confident we can protect marriage." Thirteen states last year adopted constitutional amendments declaring that only couples in a traditional marriage of one man and one woman are entitled to the benefits associated with the institution. The first salvo in this year's debate in Connecticut was set to be fired on Monday. That is when the legislature's judiciary committee was expected to hold a public hearing on two bills: one revamping the state's marriage laws to include same-sex couples and another recognizing the same-sex unions of Connecticut couples who have gotten married in Massachusetts, Canada, and elsewhere. This marks the fourth consecutive session that state lawmakers have either held hearings on the same-sex marriage issue or debated proposed legislation. But this year is slightly different because there is a lawsuit hovering over the legislature. Last August seven gay and lesbian couples from around the state sued in New Haven superior court after being denied marriage licenses in Madison. The couples are being represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which successfully represented plaintiffs in Massachusetts. The lawsuit led to a court ruling ordering that state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May. Those familiar with the Connecticut case say it could take about three years to wind its way through the courts. Democratic state representative Michael Lawlor of East Haven, cochairman of the judiciary committee and a supporter of same-sex marriage, said he wants the state legislature to handle the matter before the courts impose a decision. And Lawlor believes that's possible because he said many legislators' attitudes have changed in recent years. "The landscape is changing very quickly. Public opinion is changing very quickly," he said. "I think it's clear there's a consensus that something is doable." Lawlor said as far as he is concerned, "everything is on the table," including civil unions. Republican governor M. Jodi Rell, who has the power to veto bills, said Friday that she believes strongly in "the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman." But the governor did not rule out considering bills concerning same-sex marriage or civil unions. "It would be inappropriate to talk about whether or not I support that until I actually see the bill that would be before us and see the language that is in the bill," she said. Rell made it clear, however, that she opposes amending the constitution: "I have never supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage or same-sex marriage."

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