As the state House of Representatives prepares to vote on a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions which was passed by the Senate last Wednesday, Students United for Marriage Equality members staged a “Mobile Phone-A-Thon” on Cross Campus Monday, encouraging students to voice their disapproval of an amendment to the bill that defines marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.
Members of SUME — 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 — have focused their energies against the “Defense of Marriage Amendment.” SUME members distributed 400 cards with the office numbers of House Republicans, urging students — who were advised to identify themselves only as Connecticut voters — to phone in their disapproval.
“Within a few short hours, we had an incredibly receptive reaction,” Yale College Democrats president and SUME co-founder Allisa Stollwerk ’06 said. “Students were taking out their cell phones and calling in support of [the bill]. If anything, the campus is really behind the bill. We haven’t seen any organized opposition at all.”
Many students called the legislators on the spot, and others called on their way to class, organizer Jason Blau ’08 said. Brendan Gants ’08, who also helped organize the event, said legislators will likely be receptive to voters’ opinions.
“The Connecticut legislature is generally very accessible,” Gants said. “Some do their own scheduling, some answer their own calls … It is also the case Connecticut legislators don’t usually get many calls about an issue, so if they get a few thousand on civil unions, and they see call sheets at the end of the day, that might influence their thinking on the issue.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said he thinks students will play an important role in state politics on this issue, though greater community involvement is also important.
“Students alone are not enough in any case, but students are part of a progressive coalition that is fighting for reform,” Healey said. “Legislators respond to good causes, especially when they’re backed up with strong organizing efforts.”
The bill, however, has been met with opposition. The Family Institute of Connecticut plans to gather 1,000 protesters at the Capitol today to demonstrate against the legislation and to call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“The families that will come to the Capital tomorrow represent the diversity that makes up our state,” Family Institute executive director Brian Brown said. “African-American, White and Hispanic; Republican and Democrat; Catholic, Protestant, Jewish — all of us will come together to let our legislators know that the overwhelming majority of Connecticut residents oppose same-sex marriage.”
After the House of Representatives votes on the bill, Gov. M. Jodi Rell will have the option of a veto if it passes. Rell asked Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 Tuesday whether gay marriage is specifically denied by the bill. He has said he will respond before debate begins in the House on Wednesday. Rell has said she will not sign the bill if same-sex marriage remains an option, and will demand an amendment either prohibiting gay marriage or defining marriage as the union of a man and woman.
Blau said if the bill passes without the amendment included, SUME will continue to support it.
“The house will pass civil unions, the question is whether it will have the amendment tacked on,” Blau said. “If passed without the Defense of Marriage amendment, Governor Rell has the choice to veto the bill, in which case, we will push for no veto.”
Healey predicted that the state legislature will not pass the Defense of Marriage amendment.
“It is a terrible amendment, and I don’t think it will pass, but I imagine the bill will pass,” Healey said. “I think that with the legislature’s strong support of the bill, Governor Rell will understand the will of people as represented by legislature and sign the legislation. At least I hope she does so.”
If the bill is not immediately passed, SUME will send a bus of approximately 50 students for a rally in Hartford to meet with officials and hold a press conference with the bill’s legislative backers on Friday.
Whatever the results, SUME operates with the ultimate goal of procuring full marriage rights for same-sex couples, Gants said.
“We formed to push for marriage equality in Connecticut, what we’re getting with the civil unions bill is a great step with great potential,” he said. “But this group is pushing for full marriage equality.”
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.