long-simmering question of whether same-sex couples in
Connecticut should be allowed to marry is now in the
hands of seven state supreme court justices.
Arguments in the
potentially groundbreaking case wrapped up in about
three hours Monday, but it likely will be months before
justices rule on the lawsuit that eight same-sex
couples originally filed in August 2004.
The couples, who
have been together between 13 and 31 years, allege that
their guarantees of equal protection and due process were
violated when they were denied marriage licenses in
Madison Town Hall.
Their case also
raises questions about whether the state's 2005 civil
unions law--the first adopted nationwide without court
pressure--helped or hurt same-sex couples in
their quest for equality.
want the court to rule that the state's marriage law
discriminates against them because it applies only to
heterosexual couples, therefore denying gay couples
the financial, social, and emotional benefits of
''What is denied
to these families is something that goes to the heart of
equal protection, which is the right to be part of the
fabric of society when they are just the same as other
couples and other families,'' said their attorney,
The state argued
Monday that Connecticut's civil unions law gives the
couples the equality they seek and that the issue is a
policy question best left to lawmakers rather than
''All of those
rights and benefits, at least under state law, have been
granted,'' Asst. Atty. Gen. Jane Rosenberg said. ''From a
legal perspective, there are no rights that have been
taken away from that group, and, in fact, equal rights
have now been given to that group.''
As several states
consider civil union laws, the Connecticut case could
have nationwide ramifications. People on both sides said
Monday they are well aware of its significance.
said it best: 'How is the world supposed to get better
if nothing changes?' '' said Geraldine Artis of Clinton, who
is a plaintiff along with her partner of 13 years,
theme at Monday's hearing was whether gays and lesbians
should be considered a protected group--a legal term
for a segment of the population that, among other
things, is particularly vulnerable to discrimination
and lacks political power.
public policy director for the Family Institute of
Connecticut, which opposes same-sex marriage, said that
claim is weak. He cited the existence of Connecticut's
civil unions law, the growing number of openly gay
lawmakers in powerful positions, and a recent legislative
committee vote in favor of same-sex marriages.
''I think it
would be very hard to argue that gays and lesbians are
powerless in Connecticut in 2007,'' Wolfgang said after the
If justices agree
with the same-sex couples, they could order the case
back to the trial court, with instructions to rule in favor
of the couples. They could also order the general
assembly to consider overhauling the current marriage
Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry.
Vermont, California, New Jersey, Maine, and Washington have
laws recognizing either civil unions or domestic
partnerships, and a civil unions law is expected to
take effect in New Hampshire in January. Hawaii
extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and
cohabiting heterosexual pairs. (Stephanie Reitz, AP)