Pushes towards legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts and San Francisco are having a political impact on the Elm City, changing the terms of the debate surrounding an effort to create a registry for same-sex couples in New Haven.
Although proponents of the measure still hoped to pass legislation in the Board of Alderman this year, they said the emerging national discussion on same-sex marriage might complicate their efforts. While the ordinance would provide no additional legal rights to same-sex couples, both its supporters and opponents said the measure will likely take on greater symbolic importance as the Connecticut General Assembly conducts its own debates on gay marriage.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who sponsored similar legislation last year that failed by one vote, said he believed a so-called “domestic partnership amendment” would pass this year. But Healey, who represents most of the Yale campus, said his primary goal was to create an environment that furthered gay rights in New Haven.
“My hope is that I’ll be introducing it this spring, but a large number of aldermen and community leaders are now engaged in a conversation about how to have a dialogue about domestic partnerships in a civil and tolerant way,” Healey said. “Because of the national developments, we felt it was really important to give those conversations their due.”
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently ruled that the state was required to recognize same-sex marriages, while the city of San Francisco has, in a challenge to California law, married over 3,000 gay and lesbian couples since Feb. 12.
After winning a sixth term, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a victory speech last November that a domestic partnership amendment would be one of the first priorities of his new term. But even though several outspoken opponents of the ordinance lost their bids for reelection, DeStefano and his allies on the board have waited to reintroduce the measure, which would allow same-sex couples to receive a city-issued certificate acknowledging their relationship.
Brian Brown, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said supporters of the domestic partnership ordinance were trying to redefine marriage in an undemocratic way.
“The people of New Haven don’t want this. A lot of people at Yale may, but in general, people who reside in New Haven and vote there don’t want this,” Brown said. “Given the lawlessness in San Francisco and the attack on marriage by the courts in Massachusetts, never has there been more support for traditional marriage.”
Brown, whose group led a rally of over 3,000 people in opposition to same-sex marriage in Hartford earlier this month, said he expected a state “Defense of Marriage Act” would be introduced as an amendment to other legislation in the coming months. Such a measure would explicitly define marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, preventing the state from recognizing same-sex unions licensed by other states.
Anne Stanback, the president of the statewide group Love Makes A Family, said her group was far more focused on attaining full marriage rights for same-sex couples than on attaining domestic partnership rights. While Stanback said she was confident that a state Defense of Marriage Act would not pass, she said another failure to create a domestic partnership registry in New Haven might be politically advantageous to opponents of gay marriage.
“That would be a very bad thing, and it would be bad beyond the borders of New Haven,” Stanback said. “To fail twice would send negative signals, particularly to [state] legislators in New Haven and Greater New Haven.”