As other states pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, Connecticut lawmakers are moving closer to voluntarily allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter state-recognized civil unions.
The Democrat-controlled senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would make Connecticut the first state to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples without being ordered by the courts to do so.
"Our responsibility as a state is to have laws that ensure the well-being of each of our citizens," said the Reverend Davida Foy Crabtree, conference minister for Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. She hopes the state will eventually allow same-sex marriage.
Proponents said Tuesday that they have enough votes to pass the civil unions bill. They also believe they have enough support in the house, also controlled by Democrats. But opponents, including the Roman Catholic Church, believe there is still time to scuttle the bill or possibly amend it with language defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. And if the bill passes both chambers, opponents vow to pressure Republican governor M. Jodi Rell to veto the legislation.
"The legislators have not yet heard from the people. They're not listening," said Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. He and other opponents claim there is little to no difference between civil unions and same-sex marriage and that most polls show that the majority of Americans oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. "Connecticut, we're the ones that are doing something far, far different than the rest of the United States," he said. "The momentum is going in the other direction."
Three senate Republicans, including one who supports civil unions, asked senate president pro tem Donald Williams Jr. on Tuesday to postpone the vote until next week out of respect for Catholics and others mourning the death of Pope John Paul II. "There are such strong feelings on this issue, on both sides. What would it hurt to put it off a few days?" asked Sen. David Cappiello, a Catholic.
A spokesman for Williams said the vote would still take place. "While those of us who are Catholic certainly understand the profound meaning of what is happening at the Vatican, the business of the state has to go on," Patrick Scully said.
Rell has said she supports the concept of civil unions. However, she has not taken a stand on the bill, which extends all rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples but without an actual marriage license. Rell also wants the bill to include language that defines "marriage" in Connecticut as the legal union between one man and one woman, as husband and wife.
Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said she doesn't believe there is enough support in the house or senate to amend the bill with such language. Also, she questions why lawmakers would take such a step. "It is not a mystery in this state as to who can and cannot marry," Gallo said.
Civil union opponents are also expected Wednesday to try to amend the bill with language requiring a nonbinding public referendum on the issue. Senate minority leader Louis DeLuca said there are no plans to push for an amendment to Connecticut's constitution because the process could take several years. (AP)