Jeffrey Busch and
Stephen Davis of Wilton, Conn., say the civil
union that gives them the same statewide legal rights as
married couples in their state also makes them
feel inferior to straight couples. Busch and Davis
were among eight couples Tuesday challenging the state's
ban on same-sex marriage in superior court in New Haven.
A bill that last year legalized civil unions but
defined marriage as strictly the union of a man and a
woman "is nothing less than the government's
announcement that these are second-class citizens," Ben
Klein, a senior attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and
Defenders, told Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman.
GLAD, which used a similar argument to win
same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, filed suit on
behalf of the couples in 2004. Similar lawsuits are
pending in several other states. In January a Baltimore
judge ruled that a law against same-sex marriage violates
the Maryland constitution's guarantee of equal rights.
The Connecticut couples are not challenging the
civil union law but say the state's refusal to issue
the same marriage licenses to gay and heterosexual
couples is unconstitutional. State assistant attorney
general Jane Rosenberg defended that refusal, arguing that
there is no fundamental right to marry under
Connecticut law and that marriage has traditionally
been defined as the union of a man and a woman.
"What the plaintiffs are apparently seeking is
for Connecticut to change the definition of marriage
itself," she said. She said it was reasonable for the
state to create civil unions to give gay couples the
legal state-level rights of marriage while also dealing with
administrative issues, such as federal Medicaid and Medicare
programs, which do not recognize same-sex marriage.
Jenkins Pittman said she is struggling with
whether giving gay couples the same legal rights as
heterosexual couples but calling them something
different is so harmful that it requires a court remedy.
Klein argued that the word marriage
carries such weight in society that denying it to
same-sex couples is harmful. He also argued that it is
important for gay couples to be able to say they are married
when they travel to other states and want to, for
instance, visit their partners in the hospital.
"Marriage is privileged legal, cultural, and social
status," he said.
Jenkins Pittman also asked Rosenberg whether
Connecticut's law preventing same-sex couples from
marrying is any different from a Virginia law that
prevented interracial couples from marrying until it was
declared unconstitutional. Rosenberg said the
difference is that race is not an essential part of
marriage but that the gender of the participants is.
Jenkins Pittman said she expects that whoever
loses will appeal. A spokeswoman for GLAD said the
case will likely end up before the state supreme court
in about a year.
The couples said Tuesday they are optimistic.
"Connecticut has done so much to allow us to be a
family," Busch said. "I believe the courts will
correct this injustice of not allowing us to marry."
Busch said he and Davis had a civil union ceremony for the
benefit of their son, 3-year-old Elijah Davis Busch.
But they didn't invite any guests. "You only have one
chance to cry at your wedding, and I didn't want to
waste that on a civil union, which feels like second
class," Busch said.
Institute of Connecticut, a group that opposes same-sex
marriage, has asked to intervene in the case, claiming the
attorney general's office is not vigorously defending
Connecticut's marriage laws. The state supreme court
has not yet ruled on whether the group can become part
of the case.
Family Institute executive director Brian Brown,
who was in court Tuesday, said his group believes the
attorney general's office should be arguing about the
effect of same-sex marriage on children. "I'm very
worried about how this is going to turn out," he said. (AP)