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Connecticut house passes civil unions bill

Connecticut house passes civil unions bill

Keith Choate and Mark Ceneri turned to each other, grinning. Then they embraced. Connecticut state representatives had just voted 85-63 to allow same-sex civil unions, something Choate and Ceneri had been waiting for since they became a couple five years ago. The state senate passed a similar measure last week. "We wanted something that was meaningful," said a beaming Choate. "We wanted something that was real." The house action on Wednesday came after more than six hours of debate, much of it centered on amending the measure with a definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Gov. M. Jodi Rell praised the lawmakers for approving what she called "a stronger and clearer" bill and vowed to sign the proposal if senators sign off on the amended version. If the senate does agree to the legislation, Connecticut becomes the first state to voluntarily establish civil unions. Court rulings--handed down in lawsuits brought by gay and lesbian couples--mandated civil unions in Vermont and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The state senate is expected to take up the matter within the next week. On Wednesday dozens of gay couples wearing bright yellow "Equality" stickers watched as the representatives cast their votes. Choate and Ceneri had been listening to radio reports on the debate all day. They were monitoring it from home when they decided to jump in the car and watch the moment for themselves. "I think the Connecticut legislature and the state of Connecticut as a whole showed how we're perhaps head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to being open-minded and tolerant of our citizens," said Democratic representative Michael Lawlor, cochairman of the judiciary committee and a key proponent of the measure. The other committee cochairman, also a Democrat, agreed. "This is a vote and this is a process that will reverberate around the country," said Sen. Andrew McDonald, one of a handful of openly gay legislators. He expects the senate to approve the house version. Also in the capitol's gallery were opponents wearing white "Protect Marriage" stickers. Marie Hilliard, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, called the amendment to the measure defining marriage "a huge victory." Although it is not as strong as a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, Hilliard said she believes it provides some protection from court action. Last summer, seven same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses in Connecticut sued the state. The case is slowly winding its way through the legal system. But Hilliard said she was still dismayed that the revised civil unions bill appears headed for passage. If the bill becomes law, she said, it is a defeat for the family. Amendment or not, Republican representative Al Adinolfi still opposed the legislation. "This bill is the same as same sex-marriages except it's called civil unions," he said. "If you have identical twins, one is named Mary, and one is Jane, one is Joe, and one is Jim. They're still twins." Opponents, who have inundated legislators with thousands of e-mails in recent weeks, are not giving up hope. A massive rally is planned for later this month at the state capitol. They plan to pressure Rell to veto the bill. Even if the bill passes, some gay activists won't be entirely happy. "From my perspective, they're giving with one hand and taking with the other," said Mary Bonauto, a Boston lawyer who led a successful fight for same-sex marriage rights in neighboring Massachusetts and was disappointed the Connecticut legislation was amended with the marriage definition. "In the end, they have completely accepted and put into law the second-class status of gay and lesbian families in Connecticut," she said. "That is a very bitter pill to swallow." Hours before the house vote, nearly 350 opponents gathered on the capitol steps for a rally aimed at influencing lawmakers. They later delivered three boxes of petitions containing thousands of names to Rell's office. As the crowd chanted a prayer in unison, Jan Wetherall balanced a giant painted portrait of the Virgin Mary on his head. The Roman Catholic man has been praying every day for the bill to be defeated. "It's like Mother Teresa said: God doesn't ask us to be successful, only faithful," he said. (AP)

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