Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gay Marriage Begins in Connecticut

While the passage of Prop 8 and Amendment 2 were both disappointing and infuriating for the ignorance and intolerance they codified, the silver lining is that in Connecticut, gay marriage is now legal.

The state’s highest court ruled on Oct. 10 that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional, and a week ago the court announced that gay marriages could officially be performed starting on Wednesday.

Many same-sex couples said they would wait to apply for their licenses, which expire after 65 days, to have time to prepare for wedding celebrations in the spring and summer. Indeed, advocates for same-sex marriage predicted that there would not be the same rush for licenses on Wednesday that there was in 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages, or in June, when California began performing them. They cited both the short notice and the fact that Connecticut has, since 2005, offered civil unions, which offer similar rights and benefits, for gay couples.

Still, lawyers and supporters of gay marriage called the day momentous, especially as a counterpoint to the passage last week of a ballot measure in California that invalidated a court decision legalizing gay marriage. Connecticut voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal, backed by opponents of same-sex marriage, for a constitutional convention that would allow for such direct voter initiatives on the ballot.

“Today Connecticut sends a message of hope and promise to lesbian and gay people throughout the country who want to be treated as equal citizens by their government,” said Ben Klein, a senior lawyer with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a Boston-based group that litigated the Connecticut case. “It’s living proof that marriage equality is moving forward in this country.”

It’s also ironic that Connecticut, that staid, steady bastion of Yankee sensibility (although I’m still trying to work through that Joe Lieberman thing), would lead the way while California, trend-setter to the nation and the world, would falter. But if that’s the way it will be, so be it.

This state-by-state mosaic of rulings by courts on the constitutionality of marriage equality based on state law is maddening; it’s like the drip-drip-drip of a faucet. A lot of people on both sides of the issue want some kind of ruling like Roe vs. Wade that sets a national standard so that the groundwork can be laid for future. Like Roe vs. Wade, it won’t settle the issue for those who are terminally hung up on the lives of people they don’t know, but at least it will give them a point from where to start. But until a case comes to the United States Supreme Court that challenges the state and federal laws that impose second-class citizenship on a segment of Americans, this jigsaw puzzle of laws and amendments — yes you can in Connecticut and Massachusetts, no you can’t in Florida and California — we will have to keep educating and, like Sisyphus, keep shaking that rock.