Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed landmark legislation this week that makes Connecticut the first state to recognize same-sex civil unions without court pressure.
It joins Vermont and Massachusetts as the only states with laws that provide far-reaching benefits to same-sex couples. Vermont recognizes civil unions and Massachusetts has gay marriage, but the laws were enacted only after court fights.
Rell, a Republican, signed the bill about an hour after it was approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate on a 26-8 vote. The legislation grants gay and lesbian couples the same rights, privileges and obligations as married couples in Connecticut, but does not allow them to wed.
The law takes effect on Oct. 1.
“The vote we cast today will reverberate around the country and it will send a wave of hope to many people, to thousands of people across the country,” Sen. Andrew McDonald, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, told lawmakers before the vote. McDonald is one of a few openly gay state lawmakers in the General Assembly.
Rell said she feels comfortable the legislation does not erode marriage — something the opponents claimed. Last week, the House of Representatives, also controlled by Democrats, amended the civil union bill at Rell’s urging to define marriage in Connecticut as between one man and one woman.
“I have said all along that I believe in no discrimination of any kind and I think that this bill accomplishes that, while at the same time preserving the traditional language that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Rell, who signed the legislation in her office before a handful of photographers.
Opponents had hoped to persuade Rell to veto the bill. They believe civil unions are essentially gay marriage with a different name.
The Family Institute of Connecticut planned a rally for Sunday in opposition to the new law.
“From now until 2006, our mission will be to let every person know in the state of Connecticut which lawmakers voted to redefine marriage, and which lawmakers voted to protect marriage,” said Brian Brown, the group’s executive director.
Love Makes a Family, a statewide gay rights organization, had wanted lawmakers to instead pass a gay marriage bill. But they called civil unions an important step toward protecting the rights of same-sex couples.
“As important as the rights are, this is not yet equality,” said executive director Anne Stanback.
Last summer, seven same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in Connecticut after being denied marriage licenses. That case has not been resolved, but Connecticut legislators who back the civil unions bill claim they haven’t been influenced by it. They said they acted to extend more rights to same-sex couples and their families.
Some senators said they were disappointed the House had changed the legislation to define marriage as being between one man and one woman, although it didn’t affect any rights extended to same-sex couples.
“I feel that amendment belittles friends that I hold dear, who are of the same sex, who want to spend their lives together,” said Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. “I feel it is belittling to them and I’m sorry that amendment was placed in the House.”
But Sen. David Cappiello, D-Danbury, who voted for civil unions earlier this month, said he felt even more comfortable voting for the bill because of the amendment.
McDonald said he was pleased with the bipartisan effort. “The governor showing her leadership by signing it so promptly is really gratifying,” he said. “It has put a wonderful exclamation point on an important day for equal rights in Connecticut.”
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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