Connecticut’s state legislature is now considering a bill that could make the state the second in the nation, following Vermont, to adopt civil union protections for same-sex couples. Backers of the legislation predicted final passage after the powerful Judiciary Committee endorsed the measure in a 25-to-13 vote and Republican Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell openly gave her support.
Civil unions provide same sex couples with many of the same rights and responsibilities as traditional marriage, including a voice in medical care issues and legal standing to inherit money and property. But civil unions are not recognized across state borders or by the federal government. Whatever the final outcome of the legislation, Connecticut’s courts will also be weighing in on the issue after deciding a lawsuit filed by seven gay and lesbian couples after they were denied a Connecticut marriage license in August.
A coalition backing gay marriage in the state originally opposed the civil union bill, but changed course when supportive legislators promised that they would not abandon the fight for full marriage rights for gay couples. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, Connecticut’s main coalition working for same-sex marriage equality. Stanback explains the shifting debate on the legislation and why she views gay marriage as a civil rights issue.
Anne Stanback: The original bill that was raised in the Judiciary Committee and had a public hearing back on Feb. 7, I believe, was a bill entitled, “Marriage Equality.” It was a pretty straightforward marriage bill that would allow same-sex couples to have access to all the rights and protections of civil marriage in the state.
It had a wonderful public hearing. There actually wasn’t a single person on either side, I don’t think, that said that they supported civil union, because all the people who were there to speak in favor of the bill supported marriage and the supporters didn’t support civil unions because they didn’t think it was the same as marriage. The opponents said very clearly that they opposed civil union because they do view it as the same as marriage. So it was sort of an ironic situation.
The vote that happened in the Judiciary Committee was on an amendment to strip out the marriage language and actually turn that marriage bill into a bill that allowed for civil unions, very similar to what passed in Vermont five years ago. And it did pass overwhelmingly , and I certainly recognize that that is a huge step forward in terms of the support that we have in the Judiciary Committee. But probably from our perspective, what was most heartening about that debate and that vote, was first of all, the very sound defeat of two DOMA amendments — the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. By over a 2-to-1 margin both, what they call a statutory DOMA and a constitutional amendment were defeated. And that was great news and I think showed that Connecticut is really very different from much of the rest of the country based on what we saw in the last election cycle.
But as optimistic as anything we heard that day were the strong statements of support by many of the legislators, many who voted for the civil union bill and one who voted against it, all saying that this is not equal, this is not enough. They pledged to stand with us to continue the fight for full equality and for full civil marriage.
So, after that vote, Love Makes a Family’s board met again. We had opposed the civil union legislation, but we decided that we would not stand in the way of this legislation and withdrew our active opposition.
Between The Lines: Anne Stanback, what are the essential features in this civil union bill approved by the Judiciary Committee in terms of a partner’s ability to make decisions in medical issues or inheritance, or other issues that are primarily addressed in marriage?
Anne Stanback: There are a whole range of things that the civil union bill would cover, things like the automatic right to make medical decisions for your partner or your spouse if they are incapacitated or to have hospital visitation. The right to a whole range of employment benefits everything from employee health insurance on one’s partner’s or spouse’s health care plan, to the ability to use family and medical leave to take care of your partner or a family member.
There’s significant tax benefits, particularly tax benefits that deal with home ownership, inheritance rights, pension rights — much of this can be covered under federal law, which civil unions don’t cover — but there are definitely significant advantages that civil unions will offer.
Between The Lines: Anne Stanback, what’s the significance nationally of what it looks like the Connecticut state legislature is about to do in voting in a civil union bill? Might it mean that Connecticut joins California as the only state where the legislature voted in a civil union bill?
Anne Stanback: I think it does. And I think that we know that both the legislature and the judicial branch have their roles to play in civil rights movements. Many of the marriage fights that are going forward around the country, with the most prospects of success are doing so through the courts. It’s very important that we have some wins in the legislature. I do know that California is moving forward with marriage legislation. I think the fact that Connecticut is doing this, while it’s not everything we want and it’s not the full equality and protections of marriage, it is an important message. I think that it is going to be a steppingstone to marriage.
As Evan Wolfsen, who is one of the leaders of this movement often says, “wins trump losses” and yeah, there were losses in the election of 2004, but there are going to be significant wins in this next year. And I think that they are going to actually carry much more power than some of these constitutional amendments (banning gay marriage) that were simply reiterating laws that had been passed in state legislatures.
I think the future looks optimistic. We can’t let down our guard, but we have more and more fair-minded Americans who understand that this is simply a matter of fairness and of civil rights.
Contact Love Makes a Family by calling (860) 525-7777 or visit their website at http://www.lmfct.org
Anne Stanback is the president of the group Love Makes a Family.
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org.
This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 18, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.