Sides regroup on domestic partnerships

When a Board of Aldermen committee voted down an ordinance amendment late Monday night that would legally recognize domestic partnerships in the city of New Haven, the majority of those still in the audience applauded their elected officials for heeding appeals to morality and the principle of majority rule.

One more than the required quorum of 16 aldermen were in attendance on Monday, with 10 voting against the amendment. The full board will take up the matter, with an “unfavorable” report from the committee, on April 21.

With “DOMA Now” stickers — representing the Defense of Marriage Act — plastered onto their shirts and biblical passages on their signs, the crowd seemed pleased as they filed out of City Hall into the night.

“I was very impressed to see 200 people there who oppose this legislation,” said Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern, who voted against the amendment because she said existent state law made the issues raised “moot.”

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, the principal sponsor of the piece of legislation, exited the meeting quickly and quietly.

“I think [the hearing] just demonstrates that there is a fair amount of confusion and misunderstanding around this issue. This is not a compromise of moral values but an expansion of rights,” Healey said. “I think it’s unfortunate the vitriolic religious attacks had such an impact, but the truth is only half the board was there.”

Ahern said she did not understand the discussion of an improper overlap between church and state.

“The way you live your life is colored by your faith,” she said. “I think that’s just the way it is.”

Between now and April 21, Healey’s plan of action is to rebuild the aldermanic majority he thought he had before Monday night.

“We’re just getting in touch with our community and having supportive folks call their aldermen and we’ll try to represent some of the points of view that might have been drowned out last night in the religious fervor of the City Hall Revival,” said Healey, who said co-signatories Shirley Ellis-West and Rosa Santana were only two of the aldermen who changed their mind after expressing at least tacit support.

Neither Ellis-West nor Santana could be reached for comment.

Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt voted for the ordinance amendment Monday night and vowed his continued support of such legislation.

“I voted the way I did because I felt it was an issue that was long overdue, and also since we extended medical benefits to unions and city employees and their partners,” he said. “I don’t know what the next steps are going to be, but when it comes up again, I will vote yes again.”

Alyssa Rosenberg ’06, a coordinator of the LGBT Co-op, said the 10 aldermen who opposed the amendment showed “a real lack of courage” and vowed to take any necessary steps to sway their votes.

“[The meeting] was not at all a balanced debate,” said Rosenberg. “And I think it’s because people at Yale and in New Haven had a lot of faith in the Board of Aldermen to do the right thing. And clearly, we were wrong. My goal is for the aldermen to hear from us every day until April 21.”

Vermont became the first state to legally provide for same-sex unions in 2000, giving these couples all the same rights as a heterosexual married couple. California has a similar arrangement, and the city of Hartford has also passed a domestic partnership ordinance.

And now, courtesy of state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor of East Haven’s 99th Assembly District, there is legislation pending in the Connecticut General Assembly that would guarantee “comprehensive legal recognition of same sex couples.”

“The more time that goes by, I think the more comfortable people get with this,” said Lawlor, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The document before the Board of Aldermen would aid “domestic partners” with hospital visits should one partner get injured or become ill, as well as help with access to safety deposit boxes, facilitate tax arrangements, and clarify insurance matters.

“The purported reason for this legislation is already in place,” Ahern said. “The state has now put in place very specific steps that domestic partners or anyone may take to name anyone else as their primary care giver or beneficiary.”

Lawlor had a succinct characterization of Healey’s ordinance amendment.

“I think it’s fair to say what New Haven is trying to do is symbolic more than anything else,” he said. “Important, but symbolic.”

He also said that while some may now believe it is political suicide to support the ordinance, it will come back to haunt them in a decade or two.

“You realize that 10 years from now you’re not going to want to be a politician who voted against it. You don’t want to be a Trent Lott or Strom Thurmond,” he said. “All the same arguments were put forth against interracial marriage. And that was just 50 years ago.”

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