April 20, 2005: Connecticut enacts civil-union law
ON THIS DAY IN 2005…
Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell signed a bill to establish civil unions, with ambivalent backing from gay activists then suing the state for marriage rights.
The proposal offered same-sex couples all the same rights, benefits and privileges available to opposite-sex couples who decided to marry, albeit without calling the arrangement a marriage. Unlike in Vermont, where five years earlier lawmakers had created the first civil-unions régime against a court-imposed deadline, Connecticut’s legislature had advanced the policy without any such pressure.
As the bill moved through the capitol, it faced some of the fiercest resistance from gay-rights advocates. Love Makes A Family, a statewide organization that had led the campaign for equal marriage rights, initially opposed the civil-unions law as part of a position that came to be characterized as “marriage or nothing.” Betty Gallo, a prominent gay-rights lobbyist who had helped to found Love Makes a Family, dropped the organization as a client, telling the Hartford Courant that she “couldn’t lobby against rights for same-sex couples.”
For “marriage or nothing” hardliners, the bold yet nevertheless incremental proposal became even more unpalatable after legislators amended the bill to expressly specify in the state’s statutes that marriage applied only to opposite-sex couples. Rell, a moderate Republican opposed to same-sex marriage, indicated her support for the bill, but only after receiving a legal opinion from the state’s Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, that the new law would “emphatically, unequivocally, without any doubt” forbid gays from marrying.
With Rell poised to enact the civil-unions program into law, Love Makes a Family backed off its initial resistance, but still stopped short of a full endorsement. “We are not going to be working to kill this bill, but we will keep talking to legislators about our hope that they will stand up and speak up for marriage,” the group’s president, Anne Stanback, told the Courant.
With Rell’s signature, the law would take effect on October 1. By then, gay-rights advocates had moved on from fighting civil unions in the legislature to the courts. In August 2004, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a Boston-based public-interest law firm working in coordination with Love Makes a Family, had sued the state on behalf of eight couples claiming that their inability to marry violated the Connecticut constitution. The litigators amended their filing in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health to argue that the separate-but-unequal benefits régime amounted to its own form of discrimination against gays and lesbians.