When the state legislature convenes in January, Connecticut may provide encouraging news for gay rights supporters dispirited by 11 states’ Nov. 2 decisions to ban same-sex marriage.
Members of the Connecticut legislature have said recently that a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions is likely to be considered next year and would probably pass. If such a bill passed, Connecticut would become the first state to institute same-sex civil unions through its legislature.
Democratic State Rep. Mike Lawlor, one of the legislature’s leading proponents of civil unions, said a proposed bill would likely be similar to the court-mandated civil unions in Vermont, which afford same-sex partners the same rights as married couples. Lawlor said a bill legalizing same-sex marriage could also be considered, though it would be more difficult to pass.
Lawlor, who represents East Haven, said he thinks a civil union bill would have broad bipartisan support in the state assembly.
“It’s pretty obvious that the votes are there to pass a civil union bill, and that’s probably the most likely outcome,” Lawlor said.
Democratic state Rep. Bill Dyson, whose district includes the Yale campus, said he would probably support a bill establishing civil unions.
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell opposes same-sex marriage, but she has said that she would be open to considering civil unions.
“The governor believes in equal rights and opposes discrimination in any form, against any couple, no matter what their gender,” Rell spokesman Dennis Schain said. “In terms of protecting rights of couples, we would need to see the specifics of legislative proposals aimed at accomplishing that.”
Republican House Minority Leader Robert Ward has voiced a position similar to that of Rell.
In May of 2003, the New Haven Board of Aldermen narrowly failed to pass a bill that would have provided special status for domestic partnerships.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. backed the city’s domestic partnership bill and would support legalizing civil unions statewide, which would afford more rights for same-sex couples than domestic partnerships, said Karen Dubois-Walton ’89, the mayor’s chief of staff.
“The mayor is a proponent of ensuring that discrimination does not happen at any level, anywhere in the state,” Dubois-Walton said. “This is an issue that we supported to ensure that regardless of sexual orientation, people have equal rights. I think having something passed at the state level would strenghten that.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, a Democrat who led the move for domestic partnerships in New Haven, said he was “thrilled” the state seemed poised to support the rights of gay couples by establishing civil unions.
“It’s clear to me that the people of this state reject the intolerance of so much of the rest of the country on this issue,” Healey said. “But we don’t take anything for granted yet. There’s still a real fight ahead in the legislative session to get as many votes as possible for same-sex marriage and to accept civil unions if that’s the will of the majority.”
Lawlor said the results of this year’s elections in Connecticut indicate the public supports civil unions. He said in every election in the state where civil unions were an issue, the candidate who was in favor of them won the race this year.
“The election was very good for proponents of civil unions,” Lawlor said. “I think the actual election results in Connecticut show that the people are overwhelmingly in support of civil unions, though the verdict’s still out on same-sex marriage.”