BOULDER, Colorado -- Connecticut became the second state in the union Wednesday to allow same-sex couples to marry, joining only Massachusetts since California banned the practice by a ballot measure. The final court ruling that allowed the marriages to be conducted came at New Haven's Superior Court.
Just minutes later, the first couples were married at the office of vital statistics in City Hall.
Connecticut has had a civil unions law on the books since 2005. In 2004, eight couples sued the state for full marriage rights, and on October 10, the state supreme court overturned the civil unions statute and conferred the right to marry on same-sex couples. Wednesday's decision was the final hurdle in the case that allowed municipalities to issue marriage licenses to the couples.
Due to the fact that the supreme court ruling came less than a month before election day, opponents of the decision were left scrambling to find a way to fight it. They settled on a plan to throw their support behind an odd ballot measure. Under the constitution, every 20 years Connecticut is required to place a question on the ballot asking the voters whether or not the state should convene a constitutional convention. Gay marriage opponents urged voters to vote "yes," apparently in the hope that they could muscle through an amendment banning the marriages at the convention. The state's last convention was held in 1965, and it looks like we will have to wait another 20 years, as the measure was defeated with a resounding "no."
The Connecticut constitution is notoriously difficult to amend and does not allow for voter-initiated amendments. Earlier this year, another group was lobbying for a "yes" vote on the convention question, hoping to insert provisions allowing for a referendum process, but their campaign picked up hardly any steam. Referendums sound like a good idea, but in practice they can be unwieldy and easily manipulated by interest groups - in the case of California, Proposition 8 was used to disenfranchise an entire group, and it passed only by a slim majority. In my adopted home state of Colorado, this election I was subjected to 24 state, county, and municipal ballot questions, 11 of which were amendments to the constitution. This hardly makes for efficient government.
Connecticut and California were linked in other ways, too. The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, which has its world headquarters in New Haven, donated millions of dollars to the "yes" campaign on Proposition 8 - in fact, they were the single-largest contributor to the campaign. In addition, the K of C provided money to the convention backers in Connecticut, hoping to roll back gay marriage on two fronts.
But same-sex marriages are safe in Connecticut for the foreseeable future. I cannot say the same for California, but there remains a glimmer of hope that the state supreme court will strike down the referendum on the grounds it violates the equal protection of the law guaranteed elsewhere in the constitution, but this remains unlikely.
So, congratulations to Robin and Barbara Levine-Ritterman and Peg Oliviera and Jen Vickery, the first two same-sex couples to receive their Connecticut marriage licenses. I hope there are many more issued in the future, and we New Englanders should be proud that we are paving the way for gay rights while most of the country seems to be sliding backwards.
Read more about this historic day in New Haven from Melissa Bailey in the New Haven Independent.
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