After a marathon session of electrically charged public comment on the topics of homosexuality, marriage and religion, the New Haven Board of Aldermen last night rejected a proposal to “acknowledge the relationship status of domestic partnerships.”
While the words of the legislation would not have allowed same-sex marriage or civil unions — that falls under state jurisdiction — the ordinance flared into a debate over church and state and the delegate-versus-trustee capacity of an alderman.
The decision also appeared to contradict previous aldermanic decisions which allowed for domestic partnerships with regard to insurance and health care coverage for city workers.
From pastors and their flocks to a man who identified himself as a prophet, all but a handful of the dozens of testimonials were vociferously opposed to the document under consideration.
Bishop Theodore Brooks of the Beulah Heights Church was among the first to speak and was greeted with raucous applause upon concluding his biblically-laced remarks.
“People may choose to live any way they wish,” he said. “When any society exalts itself above the very laws of the nature, as set forth by God, to accommodate a select group of people, it has lost its sense of morality. When we have left our basic values to dissolve — we are on the verge of destruction.”
The religious tenor of the discussion continued for four hours, with countless passages from holy texts and the power of God appearing frequently in speakers’ remarks.
Gary Jenkins, chairman of Fellows in Pastorship, spoke louder and more controversially than most, hinting that the voting aldermen should heed both the divine word and the word of their constituents or face defeat come election time, or worse.
“What this is is a covert operation. This is a sneaky attack perpetrated by the forces of hell and the powers of darkness,” he said to the aldermen. “Pass this legislation and we will do everything in our power to vote you out of office.”
Others went as far as to say passage of the ordinance would fly in the face of God and would result in eternal damnation for the signers.
Daphne Fitzpatrick, professor of sculpture in the Yale School of Art, squirmed in her seat until she finally got to say her piece.
“I can feel so much hate in this room, and it’s really scaring me,” she said. “I’m gay and I’m white and I can change being gay as much as I can being white. What if we passed a law that said that black people couldn’t marry?”
Emily Wills ’04 asked the board to acknowledge her lifestyle and desire to have a recognized partnership with her girlfriend by passing the legislation as a potential gateway to larger acceptance.
“This is our city and we want our city to love us as much as we love it,” she said.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 put forth the piece of legislation — nearly identical to that put forward in 1993 by Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, when he was Ward 1 alderman — with nine co-signatories. But after hearing from their constituents, two backed down from their original support. In a final 10-6 vote, with one abstention, of the required quorum of aldermen, these votes proved devastating to Healey’s cause.
Ward 12 Alderwoman Shirley Ellis-West was one of the more emotional defections, saying she regretted her behavior politically but needed to oppose the resolution to sleep comfortably at night.
“I can’t ignore the people who elected us into office,” she said, nearly tearful. “But y’all ain’t gotta answer to my God, so I’m not going to support this.”
Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez voted against the ordinance amendment in 1993 and he voted the same way last night.
“The only thing this would accomplish is force the majority to accept the will of the minority,” he said, citing the state’s jurisdiction over such issues. “And we really have nothing to gain.”
Morand left the meeting disappointed in the aldermen and their adherence to the principles of American government.
“Our city’s street grid shows Orange Street between Church and State,” said Morand of the city’s downtown thoroughfares. “But at the hearing, that distinction seemed to disappear.”