Almost a decade after the Board of Aldermen rejected a proposal to recognize same-sex marriages, the city at last will reconsider whether gay couples deserve the same legal rights as straight ones. This week, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 revived a version of that original legislation, which fell a single vote short of being passed when it was first introduced by Healey’s predecessor, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, almost 10 years ago. Hopefully, it will fair better the second time around.
In fact, there is little the city can do when faced with the state’s antiquated marriage laws, which legally recognize only heterosexual unions. If passed, as Healey said he anticipates, this proposal will give New Haven officials the right to enforce local employers’ already-established commitments to providing certain benefits, including health care, to same-sex partners — not a major gay rights coup.
But the board’s acceptance of same-sex unions would undo a 10-year-old error in judgement and establish New Haven as a welcoming community. Furthermore, it could help create momentum for change at the state level, where the case for same-sex marriage will be made at the upcoming legislative session, as it has been for the past two years.
Wednesday saw hundreds of protesters already demonstrating for gay rights in Hartford and hundreds more camped out in defense of traditional values and in opposition to same-sex unions. The Knights of Columbus, for example, have collected 70,000 signatures from people who want the legislature to enact a Defense of Marriage Act — to say explicitly and once and for all that marriage is for men and women only. It is to temper this movement, at least, that the Board of Aldermen must pass Healey’s proposal.
Connecticut has never quite been a pioneer when it comes to progressive legislation, but it has followed closely in tow as other states have extended long-awaited rights to same-sex couples. Several times in the past decade, at both state and city levels, legislators have come close to passing landmark amendments to archaic laws preventing gay marriages and civil unions — but their efforts have always fallen short by a few minutes or a couple of votes.
While it is not our place to pass judgment on religious or cultural objections to homosexuality, it is not the place of a secular government to perpetuate them, either. In recent years, the state has extended domestic partner benefits, visitation rights in hospitals, and adoption rights to gay couples, putting it ahead of almost every other state — with the exception of Vermont and California, which grant gay couples the right to a civil union.
Last March, the state Judiciary Committee approved at the last minute a bill that would extend some legal rights, including health care, to same-sex couples. But a clerk was unable to deliver the vote tally before 5 p.m. — the committee’s deadline to act on new proposals for the year — so the bill was rejected by the Legislative Commissioners. Beginning this March, the state will hear arguments for the Defense of Marriage Act; come summer, it will have another opportunity to expand legal rights for same-sex couples. This time, the city should be there to push it along.