The New Haven Board of Aldermen narrowly rejected a controversial proposal Monday night that would have acknowledged the relationship status of domestic partnerships.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who sponsored the ordinance amendment, needed a simple majority of the board –16 aldermen — to guarantee passage of the legislation. But after a dramatic roll-call, his proposal came up short by one affirmative vote.
Fifteen aldermen — the majority of those in attendance — voted for the proposal, nine voted against, four passes and two aldermen were absent.
Healey, who secured nine co-signatories when he submitted the plan in March, only to have three eventually retract their support, was confused and dismayed by the outcome.
“I don’t know what to expect anymore,” he said of his vacillating peers. “People changed their votes on me so many times, my head is spinning.”
The much-anticipated decision fell in line with a similar vote a decade ago when the ordinance amendment first came before the board and a well-attended public hearing that seemed to spell its doom.
The Monday meeting was no less well-attended with supporters bedecked in orange “Equal Rights for All Couples” T-shirts and opponents sporting “DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] Now” stickers filling the gallery and standing shoulder to shoulder in the aisles.
Ward 26 Alderwoman Lindy Gold spoke strongly on behalf of the recognition of domestic partnerships, despite being “subject to scorn, bigotry and threats” via telephone and email in the weeks leading up to Monday’s meeting.
“We were not enticed to public service to be chattels to special interest,” she said, referring to the particularly vocal opponents of the proposal. “We often do things that are so mundane. Here we have the opportunity to extend civil rights. Colleagues, do the right thing.”
Ward 21 Alderman Willie Greene, who voted against the ordinance amendment at the conclusion of the public hearing, changed his stance and had a message for those who promised to vote him out of office in the September primary.
“Let me say this: bring the primary on,” said Greene, reasoning that the rights of fellow taxpayers were more important than his low-paying government position.
Many of those who eventually voted against the proposition alluded to those very constituents with the power to re-elect or depose their representative in City Hall.
“I got door knocks up until 11 o’clock in the evening,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusef Shah confessed, saying that he had not been lobbied at all by “the other side.” “You have to understand that our constituents who have voted us into office have spoken.”
Ward 20 Alderman Charles Blango, who voted against the proposition, spoke bluntly.
“Don’t let nobody push you around,” he said. “You vote your heart.”
Ward 24 Alderwoman Elizabeth McCormack, the board majority leader, did the exact opposite.
“I voted the way my constituents wanted me to vote, not the way my heart wanted me to vote,” she admitted.
Ward 17 Alderman Matt Naclerio, a supporter of the bill, responded to many of the rationalizations offered by dissenting alderman by seizing upon a central dichotomy in the prescribed role of elected officials.
“We’re always debating whether or not people elect us to parrot their views or whether they trust us to do the right thing for the benefit of them or their families or the city of New Haven.”
Answering his own question, Naclerio paraphrased an old adage to justify the trustee role of his position as elected official.
“A leader takes people where they want to go,” Naclerio stated. “A great leader takes people where they should go.”
The whole event could have played out differently, however, if Ward 26 Alderwoman Robin Kroogman had been sitting in her normal chair.
Kroogman, a strong supporter of the ordinance amendment in 1993 and this time, was attending funeral services for a family friend on Monday evening. Her vote would have been decisive.
The proceedings opened with Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern offering up two amendments to Healey’s original ordinance amendment that she hoped would carve the proposal into something more people could accept.
The first sought to restrict the jurisdiction of Healey’s proposal to the residents of New Haven to avoid conflict with state law and avoid overburdening the city registrar with new applications for recognition. The second would have stipulated that the domestic partners be of the same sex. Both amendments failed resoundingly.
Molly Nolan, who co-owns Ameche Architects in New Haven with her husband, was especially disappointed by the four aldermen who passed instead of voting.
“I think it’s spineless,” she said. “They were able to kill it without having stated their own thoughts. Others at least had the courage to stand by their convictions.”
“It boggles the mind that obtaining such fundamental fairness causes so much difficulty,” Nolan said.
Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a conservative lobby, was pleased by the result.
“The obvious truth that the people of New Haven don’t want this was the basis for the vote,” he said.
Despite the proposal’s failure, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, who authored the previous version of the bill when he was Ward 1 Alderman 10 years ago, expressed guarded optimism.
“The tide in New Haven favors progress,” said Morand. “The nine ‘no’ votes tonight show that the hold-outs against tolerance are shrinking, down from 15 the last time the full board cast a vote”
Healey said he plans to reintroduce the proposal at some point but would not say how soon that would be.