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Connecticut Gets

Connecticut Gets

This weekend, all 50 states participated in protests against the passing of antigay legislation in California, Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida. Gays and lesbians in Connecticut protested too, but they also had reason to celebrate. Last week, same-sex marriages got under way throughout the state.

Amid the roses and balloons, and the tears and cheers of joy, gay men and lesbian couples married in Connecticut last Wednesday -- the first day that same-sex marriages became legal there.

Barbara Levine-Ritterman of New Haven, Conn., and her partner of more than 16 years, Robin, were one of the eight couples who sued the state in 2004 after they were refused marriage licenses.

And so it was especially fitting that they were the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license Wednesday morning from New Haven City Hall -- only minutes after superior court judge Jonathan Silbert entered final judgment on the case just a few blocks away across town.

"It made me proud," Levine-Ritterman said, adding that when she and Robin filed for a civil union three years ago, they were required to stand in a separate line from those who were seeking marriage licenses.

But she said it "felt very different" on Wednesday when the two women stood in the same line as every other couple -- straight or same-gendered.

"I'm proud that Connecticut is my home," Levine-Ritterman said.

Connecticut became the third state in the nation to legalize marriage equality on October 10 -- joining California and Massachusetts -- after its supreme court ruled that denying gay couples the right to marry violated the state's constitution.

Earlier this month voters in California passed Proposition 8, amending the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The state's supreme court had ruled in May that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry violated the constitution.

Previously, Connecticut only afforded same-sex couples the recognition of civil unions.

But in Kerrigan and Mock et al. v. Connecticut Dept. of Public Health (the department that supervises marriage licensing in Connecticut), Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, in conjunction with a team of Connecticut-based attorneys, argued that the state's 2005 civil union law failed to provide same-sex couples with the equal protection guaranteed under Connecticut's constitution.

Ben Klein, the senior GLAD lawyer who argued the marriage case before the court, said usually when final judgment is entered on a decision, it is done with little fanfare and generally handled by the court's clerks.

But on Wednesday morning, he said, Judge Silbert chose to read aloud and then sign the ruling during an open court hearing -- an event that was attended by all eight plaintiff couples; Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal; and numerous gay marriage supporters and members of the press.

"I think that the judge wanted to acknowledge the historic nature of the day," said Anne Stanback, executive director of the Hartford-based Love Makes a Family, adding that immediately after the signing Blumenthal then sent a "blast fax to every town in the state" to say that marriage was now legal for same-sex couples.

Stanback -- whose group, working closely with the GLAD attorneys, led the grassroots lobbying effort for equal marriage rights in Connecticut -- said that though it was impossible to know the actual number of Connecticut same-sex couples who have already obtained marriage licenses and/or were married this week, she expects hundreds of couples to do so over the next couple of months.

"And I think thousands more as we move into next year," she said.

Since the Connecticut decision cannot be appealed to a federal court -- the case and the ruling were based on state law -- gay marriage opponents there had pinned their hopes on changing the state's constitution.

On last week's ballot, Connecticut residents voted on whether the legislature should convene to review the state's constitution. The state constitution requires the question to be posed on the ballot every 20 years.

The Family Institute of Connecticut and the Connecticut Catholic Conference urged residents to vote in favor of a convention, citing the need to outlaw marriage equality through referendum. But the there has been little, if any, backlash to last month's ruling, and Connecticut residents voted against holding a new convention.

"The real story" about gay marriage in Connecticut is "that it's really a non-story here," Stanback said.

Klein agreed.

"It's a state in which most people are very accepting and even-keel about change," Klein said. "Connecticut is a very tolerant state."

And unlike California and other states that passed similar antigay marriage measures last week, in Connecticut constitutional amendments can only be initiated by the state legislature. And Klein said that there does not appear to be any significant support within Hartford's Democratic-controlled general assembly to do that.

"It really is clear sailing here on out for equal marriage in Connecticut," he said.

Still, the gay marriage victory for Connecticut's LGB community was a bittersweet one, with the passing of California's Prop. 8 last week still fresh in the minds of many.

"It's heartbreaking," Klein said of Prop. 8.

But he added that the success in Connecticut is proof that the marriage equality movement continues to move forward and make progress.

"The equal marriage movement is still alive and well," Klein said.

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