After a debate that lasted until around 7 p.m. yesterday evening, Connecticut state Senators voted 27-9 in favor of a bill to legalize civil unions between people of the same sex.
The bill passed through the state Senate without the attachment of a proposed Defense of Marriage Act rider that would define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. It still requires passage by the state House of Representatives and the governor’s signature before it becomes a law.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven, said in an interview he felt the vote conveyed an important message about Connecticut’s devotion to civil rights.
“I think in many ways it was a historic vote,” Looney said. “I see it as a significant civil rights legislation. It’s in our tradition of gradual and incremental extension of full participatory rights in our democracy to segments of the population that were not included previously.”
While civil unions and gay marriage tend be considered partisan issues on the national level, six of the Senate’s 12 Republican members voted in favor of the legislation. But Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca, a Republican, told the News he was ideologically opposed to the concept of civil unions.
“My opposition is that I don’t support gay marriage, and I don’t support civil unions because it’s just another name,” DeLuca said. “It’s part of my culture, my thought process, and what I believe.”
Looney said he felt the senate vote would give the bill enough strength to pass with a large majority in the House of Representatives. After that step, it would require the signature of Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell to become law.
Rell has expressed her hopes that the House of Representatives will alter the bill by adding a Defense of Marriage Act amendment.
“Governor Rell supports the concept of civil unions,” said Adam Liegeot ’94, a Rell spokesman. “She is against discrimination in any form. The bill still must go to the House of Representatives, where the governor would like to see the bill amended to include language that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.”
Looney said he felt that even if the bill were to come before Rell without such a rider, the governor would sign it.
“I would be very surprised if she were to veto the bill, and I think that a veto would likely be overridden,” Looney said.
The vote’s 27-9 outcome would constitute a two-thirds majority in the Senate even if three of the senators voting in favor decided to change their votes. Together with a two-thirds or greater majority in the House of Representatives, such a two-thirds majority in the Senate would suffice to pass a bill into law over a gubernatorial veto.
Before yesterday’s vote was decided, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who sponsored legislation for a domestic partnership initiative before the Board of Aldermen in 2003, said he was optimistic about the bill’s passage, and about its potential impact on the marriage equality debate.
“I think it’s tremendous that Connecticut is about to be the first state that passes a civil unions bill through the legislature,” Healey said. “We need to continue pushing for full marriage equality and only when we achieve that will the fight be complete.”
Back at Yale, Students United for Marriage Equality — a coalition including members of the Yale College Democrats, the Yale chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, and Students Advocating Marriage Equality — organized a postcard-signing drive yesterday to support the legislation.
In five hours of tabling, SUME gathered the signatures of around 400 Yalies on postcards supporting the civil unions bill, to be sent to state legislators. SUME, in coordination with other student groups across Connecticut, intends to lobby in favor of the bill in Hartford a week from Friday.
“We are going to make sure that this bill gets passed, and we look forward to doing that next week, and making our voices heard,” said Alissa Stollwerk ’06, president of the Yale College Democrats and a co-founder of SUME. “For now, we’ll wait and see, and will go ahead as planned.”