Monday, March 7, 2005

Connecticut Is Next

First Vermont, then Massachusetts, and now Connecticut is dipping its toe in the water of same-sex marriage.

The debate over a bill that would allow same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in some ways has been predictable: Some church groups and Republican lawmakers are opposed, calling the measure a slippery slope to gay marriage. Some Democrats are in favor, saying gays are being denied important rights and protections.

Yet in other ways, the debate may seem counterintuitive.

“I don’t have any trouble with the concept,” Gov. M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, said on Friday when asked about civil unions. “I’ve said all along I don’t support any kind of discrimination and I don’t believe in discrimination of any kind. If we can address those concerns without marriage, then I am open to the concept.”

In fact, the governor, who emphasized that she wanted to read the bill closely before committing, may be more open to the idea than Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, the state’s leading advocacy group for same-sex marriage.

“We don’t support civil unions in concept,” Ms. Stanback said. “We’re saying that we don’t think that Connecticut needs to take a half-step to marriage.”

Given that 11 states voted on Election Day to ban gay marriage, central figures in Connecticut could seem to be out of sync with national developments. But lawmakers and gay activists say the shifting and relatively muted debate here reflects views that have evolved rapidly in response to historic changes in neighboring states.


But in Connecticut, the exit ramp to New England and its distinctive style of social liberalism, no court ruling has been necessary to push state-sanctioned civil unions toward what lawmakers in both parties say is likely passage. And while changes in neighboring states may have altered perspectives here, some say the state has long been known for tolerance, or at least pragmatic apathy.

“I think there’s a broad consensus in Connecticut that what consenting adults do, the public doesn’t question that,” said Robert M. Ward, a Republican who is the State House minority leader.


Michael P. Lawlor, a Democrat who is the House co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and who supports gay marriage, said adopting civil unions now would increase the chance for gay marriage in the future. He said other residents are becoming accustomed to gay couples as social peers – as neighbors who raise children, for example.

“Once you become comfortable with that, then it’s hard to argue against civil unions,” he said, “and it will be hard to argue against marriage.” [New York Times]

The Religious Reich and the wing-nuts can dismiss Vermont as a bunch of old commune-living ice-cream-making hippies and Masschusetts as the home of the Kennedys, but it’s hard to put the knock on a place that puts “Constitution State” on its license plates.