Yale groups organize for civil unions

As the state legislature moves closer to voting on a bill that would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to legalize civil unions without a court order, liberal groups on campus are organizing to support the bill, in addition to pushing for further legislation that would grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Several campus groups — including the Yale College Democrats, the Yale chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the Social Justice Network and Students Advocating Marriage Equality — have formed a coalition that is sending a letter today to political leaders urging support for the civil union bill. The coalition, named Students United for Marriage Equality, is also currently planning an upcoming lobbying trip to Hartford to meet with officials and hold a press conference with the bill’s legislative backers.

“The time has come for Connecticut’s public officials to join their constituents in support of marriage equality,” the coalition wrote in its letter.

The coalition’s letter will go out to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83, Treasurer Denise Nappier, Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell. DeStefano, Malloy and Bysiewicz are pursuing the Democratic nomination for Connecticut governor, and there has been widespread speculation on whether Sullivan and Blumenthal will join the race.

“We are calling on them to support this important legislation that citizens of Connecticut have really rallied behind,” Yale College Democrats president Alissa Stollwerk ’06 said. “It is important for them to show their constituents that this is important to them.”

The coalition is currently working on expanding throughout Connecticut, with the goal of forming a statewide network of college organizations. Political groups from Wesleyan University, Quinnipiac University and Trinity College have already signed the coalition’s letter.

“I feel that the kind of influence we can have is actually pretty great,” Yale ACLU chair Nicholas Seaver ’07 said. “[Political leaders] have heard the arguments from the standard vested interests, and I think that showing that there’s a large group of people behind marriage equality will be compelling.”

Yale College Republicans president Al Jiwa ’06, who does not personally opppose civil unions, said he knows of no groups working on campus to oppose civil union legislation.

“No one has come to me yet with any ideas about how to organize against this,” he said. “But I am certain that there are members of the Yale College Republicans who oppose it.”

Coalition leaders said that though they are currently focusing on civil unions, their ultimate goal is to enact same-sex marriage legislation. Though civil unions would grant the same rights as marriage in Connecticut, same-sex marriage could give couples legal standing at the federal level, Seaver said.

“At this point we’re pushing for civil unions as a means toward marriage equality,” said Andrew Dowe ’08, who founded SAME within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative at Yale. “Civil unions are a stepping stone.”

A University of Connecticut poll taken last year showed broad statewide support — 74 percent of those polled — for civil unions, but found that the public was split on the same-sex marriage issue, with 49 percent in support and 46 percent against. The poll had a 4-percent margin of error.

But opponents of conferring marital rights to same-sex couples have cited the results of a more recent poll commissioned by the Family Institute of Connecticut, an organization that has vocally opposed civil union legislation, as telling a different story. According to the poll’s results, 78 percent of state residents “agree that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”

The civil union legislation, Senate Bill 963, titled “An Act Concerning Civil Unions,” passed through the legislature’s Appropriations Committee last week. Earlier in the year, the Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 13 in favor of the bill. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in April.

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