Nearly two years ago, the Connecticut House passed bill 5830, making it one of only seven states to allow same-sex adoption.
Now, if same-gender rights lobbyists get their way, Connecticut may join the even more exclusive club of states permitting same-sex marriage or unions. After pleading their cases at a legislative hearing, both sides must now turn the decision over to lawmakers.
Lobbyists are attempting to pass two bills in the house — one allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions and another that would actually allow them to be legally married.
At the forefront of same-sex rights for over 10 years, Connecticut became one of 13 states to pass legislation protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1991. Connecticut’s history, coupled with growing national support for same-sex adoption, has given same-sex marriage a better-than-average chance of passing here.
Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its support for the right of same-sex couples to adopt children.
“Families come in various shades of gray,” said Dr. Allen Perrin, a member of the academy. “But the variable that matters is not the sexual orientation of the parent.”
Perrin said that he did not consider the effects of the academy’s support of same-sex adoption on same-sex marriage legislation when helping to draft the policy. Those working for same-sex marriage, however, are well aware of the importance of sending a social message that homosexuals are not second-class citizens.
“When we passed the adoption bill, we were concerned more about the legal protection of the child,” said Leslie Brett, who works for Love Makes a Family, a statewide volunteer group of same-gender rights activists. “But they are definitely related.”
The first proposed bill, An Act Concerning Same-Sex Marriage, is straightforward in its legalization of same-sex marriage. The other, An Act Concerning the Applicability Of Certain Statutes to Same-Sex Partners, is as complicated as its cumbersome title suggests. This latter bill would include same-sex couples in the 588 Connecticut statues in which marital status is a factor without legally recognizing the marriage.
Vermont became the first state to legally provide for same-sex unions in 2000. Although the bill passed easily in both the state House and Senate, the process took over three years, and faced heavy protest from a number of groups, such as “Take Back Vermont.”
Civil union, however, is controversial among supporters of same-sex marriage.
“Civil union is not portable from state to state,” Brett said. “Also, it’s the clearest way you can make the statement that there’s this marriage thing that straight people have, but we can’t have it.”
Although marriage carries a heavy symbolic significance, its practical aspects are difficult to ignore.
“The question for many of us comes to ‘Do you accept incremental change, or do you wait for the whole thing?'” said Connecticut House Majority Leader David Pudlin. “Everything from property laws to medical laws to motor vehicle laws is affected by marriage.”
Opponents of the bills, many of whom are prominent religious leaders, argue that marriage, by definition, happens between a man and a woman.
“We have to decide whether we’re following the classical tradition that all of civilization is based on,” said ultra-Orthodox New Haven Rabbi Daniel Greer. “If not, let’s do whatever we want to do. Let’s have three people marry. Let’s have 10 people marry.”
Greer sees same-sex marriage as a slippery slope that may have no end.
“It’s the tyranny of the minority. It’s political correctness to the ‘nth’ degree,” he said. “Sure, some people are going to be miserable, but sometimes you have to sacrifice a smaller misery to prevent a larger one.”
Not all religious figures, however, are on the same page as Greer.
Cynthia Terry, the associate University chaplain, is raising her son Connor with her female partner, and has another child on the way.
For Terry, the legalization of same-sex marriage is especially important because it could affect her child’s future.
“The question of same-sex marriage stands in this same line of civil rights,” Terry said. “Some of these can be replicated through contracts drawn up by a lawyer; many of them are unavailable to other couples.”
Under current laws, which allow same-sex partners to adopt children, Terry had to file legal papers to give her partner the right to make decisions about their son.
“For me at the moment, I am aware that as a pregnant woman, I have had to pay for legal papers to protect my partner and the child we are expecting in the event of an illness or my death,” Terry said. “Without the paperwork, she would be unable to make decisions should I be ill; if I were to die in childbirth, there is no guarantee that she would be considered the parent of our child.”
Terry feels that the issue of having two legal parents is both a practical and a symbolic one.
“It does help her [Terry’s partner] to feel legitimate in places that may not understand,” Terry said. “For example, if we are traveling out of state and going to a doctor because of an ear infection, it’s much easier to simply answer, ‘Yes, I am his mother,’ without having to explain.”
Supporters are confident that same-sex marriage will be widely accepted in the future, if not now.
“If you look at the evolution of this type of legislation, what seems unthinkable goes unnoticed a few years later. After all, it was only in 1981 that we were debating whether rape should be legal in marriages,” Pudlin said. “Do I think it will happen? The answer is yes. Can I tell you when? No.”
Brett, too, was optimistic about the eventual success of this type of legislation.
“Understanding and acceptance are growing,” she said. “We are growing.”