Supporters of a domestic partnership initiative for same-sex couples in New Haven are shifting their focus to a statewide push for gay marriage, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said Thursday.
In a decision that reflects the changing national politics concerning same-sex marriage, Healey and his allies said a renewed effort to get the city to officially recognize domestic partnerships — which failed by one vote in the Board of Aldermen last May — was unlikely to occur this year. Healey said he would instead help lead a campaign to mobilize support in New Haven for a measure legalizing same-sex marriage that he hopes will be introduced in the Connecticut General Assembly next year.
Healey, who introduced the domestic partnership resolution last year, said the events of the past year — including a Massachusetts court decision that ordered that state to marry same-sex couples beginning May 17 — diminishes the importance of passing legislation that would have only granted same-sex couples a certificate acknowledging their relationship.
“Certainly, we believe that we have the capacity to pass the ordinance, but it’s a question of where the appropriate focus of energy should be and what actually pushes forward the larger agenda,” said Healey, a Democrat who represents much of the Yale campus. “The consensus seems to be that we can have a bigger impact helping to organize New Haveners in a statewide movement than passing an ordinance at the local level that, while symbolic, doesn’t provide the protections that we ultimately want.”
While the Board’s vote concerning the domestic partnership initiative last year inspired occasionally heated rhetoric from both its supporters and detractors, the resolution would not have granted same-sex couples any new legal rights. Yet with marriage now at the center of the discussion, activists and officials said they expected an even fiercer debate in the coming months.
Bishop Theodore Brooks, a pastor at Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church who rallied against the domestic partnership registry last year, said proponents of same-sex marriage were mistaken if they believed that every Democrat in New Haven — an overwhelmingly Democratic city — supported their efforts.
“This is an issue that strikes to the very core of what this country was founded on,” Brooks said. “People are trying to make this a civil rights issue. This is not a civil rights issue.”
Healey said he was not sure how many proponents of domestic partnership would back his efforts to legalize gay marriage, but he said several aldermen and local activists were planning to stage public events and canvass door-to-door in support of same-sex marriage.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who pledged after winning reelection last year to pass a domestic partnership resolution, said last week that he now saw little “strategic” value in the effort. But DeStefano said that while he was convinced same-sex partners should receive the same rights currently offered to married couples, he said he was still undecided as to whether gays should be allowed to marry.
“The issue of marriage is a trickier one for me,” DeStefano said. “I’m really wrestling with that in my own head.”
Jorge Perez, president of the Board of Aldermen, said he believed New Haven’s residents were divided on the issue of same-sex marriage — much like the rest of the country.
“I don’t think there’s a clear overwhelming majority,” said Perez, who opposed the domestic partnership initiative last year. “If I had to pick, I would say the majority — but not by much — is against same-sex marriage. But I would also think that the majority — again, not by much — is for civil unions.”
The Connecticut General Assembly may consider the issue of gay marriage as early as next year, although several opponents of same-sex unions are pushing for a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) this legislative session. Connecticut is one of 12 states that does not have a DOMA on the books, meaning that local couples may be able to marry in Massachusetts after May 17.