From Wednesday forward, same-sex couples in Connecticut can be licensed to marry, for better or worse and in sickness or in health — just like their heterosexual counterparts.
One month after the Connecticut Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the first same-sex marriage license in the state was issued in New Haven on Wednesday morning. Barbara and Robin Levine-Ritterman signed their license to marry at 10 a.m. at City Hall, 17 years after their Jewish commitment ceremony and three years after entering into a civil union.
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As the Levine-Rittermans exited the foyer of City Hall, marriage certificate in hand, a crowd of gay rights activists and supporters along Church Street erupted in cheers, presenting the couple with red roses and blowing bubbles in celebration.
On Oct. 10, Connecticut’s Supreme Court passed a decision in the Kerrigan et al vs. the Connecticut Department of Health case in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the Constitution State. The ruling, which passed 4-3, permits same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses in the state of Connecticut at any town or city clerk, marking a historic moment for the gay community in Connecticut.
The decision went into effect on Wednesday when Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders attorneys returned to New Haven Superior Court along with the eight gay and lesbian couples they have represented since the case was filed in 2004.
In a courtroom filled with the palpable buzz of anticipation, the plaintiffs heard Judge Jonathan Silbert pass his final judgment on a social justice case that began in the same courthouse under Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman.
“This has been a long-awaited event, and no doubt there is a good deal of pent-up emotion,” Silbert said. “The couples may go forth from this court knowing what their rights and obligations are — the same as their fellow citizens.”
For Geraldine and Suzanne Artis, the parents of three young sons, being married meant everything, especially after being in a committed relationship for 15 years. Geraldine Artis said she often experienced back pains that required her to spend time in the hospital, but her health forms did not allow her to name her partner as a next-of-kin.
“When the question was raised about kinship, I would refer to my partner, but there was lots of hesitation and confusion,” Geraldine Artis said. “When you’re in a dire situation, you really don’t want to have to deal with that.”
Civil unions often have an impact on hospital visitation rights, taxation, equal health coverage and protection rights, said Ben Bernard ’10, a coordinator for Yale’s LGBT Co-Op. Without the right to partake in marriage, gay and lesbian couples often feel like second-class citizens, Bernard said.
“I don’t want ‘gay marriage,’” Bernard said, “I want ‘marriage’ with its same traditional definition, but with its discriminatory barriers removed.”
For Anne Stanback, executive director of Love Makes a Family — a national gay marriage activist group — an eight-year dream of legalizing same sex marriage finally became a reality.
“We formed with the mission to change the law in Connecticut so that same sex couples could marry,” Stanback said. “While there is still more work to do on other fronts, as of today our mission has been accomplished.”
Although there were no organized protests of the licenses in the area, one passerby vocalized his disapproval as he passed the procession of couples walking from the courthouse to City Hall. “This state sucks,” the man yelled, adding an anti-homosexual slur.
GLAD attorneys initially began their work on the case in 2004, when they called into question the constitutionality of Madison City’s decision to deny committed same-sex couples marriage licenses. On behalf of those eight same-sex couples, GLAD filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health, which is responsible for registering state marriages.
In 2005, Connecticut permitted civil unions for same-sex couples, but the legislation failed to afford couples the same full rights of heterosexual couples.The decision was contested by a state ballot initiative in last Tuesday’s election that would have allowed changes to be made to the state constitution through a constitutional convention.
But a majority of Connecticut voters stood up in protest — 59 percent of them rejected the initiative.
Following the court’s final judgment, the eight couples walked hand in hand — some with elated tears, others with proud smiles — in procession to the clerk’s office to receive their marriage licenses.
“Connecticut has had a long tradition of treating citizens fairly,” GLAD Senior Attorney Ben Klein said. “Today, Connecticut sends a message of hope and inspiration to gay and lesbian couples that they too can be treated equally by their fellow citizens. They will now get the same respect and dignity they deserve.”
And it appears state officials plan to keep it that way. In a closing remark in court, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, who has fought for the state Department of Health against GLAD for the past four years, said, “My team was defending state law. Like all citizens that respect the rule of law, we put aside our personal opinions, and hope to enforce this new law so that this order will be honored.”
New Haven’s Bureau of Vital Statistics received the new marriage licenses on Friday, Deputy Registrar Maria DeGaetano said. The forms — which once had one slot for the “bride” and one slot for the “groom” — now have two spaces that both read “bride/groom/partner.”