With the signature of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell yesterday, Connecticut officially became the first state in the nation to institute same-sex civil unions through its legislature without being forced to do so by a court order.

Rell signed the bill roughly an hour after it was passed in the state Senate for a second time. The senate first voted in favor of the bill two weeks ago but had to reconsider an amended version that was passed by the state House last week.

The House amendments to the bill included language that reiterated an existing state law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

“[Rell] reiterated her position that she has always opposed discrimination in any form, and that she believes in equal rights for all couples, no matter the gender,” Rell spokesman Dennis Schain said. “The governor believes this bill addressed those issues while protecting traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”

Schain added that the governor does not support same-sex marriage and had asked the House to include the amendment emphasizing this position.

Although the bill passed through both the House and Senate with relatively little opposition, some opponents of same-sex civil unions have staged protests and demonstrations against the bill. They said the bill signing today will not end their efforts.

“From now until 2006, our mission will be to let every person know in the state of Connecticut which lawmakers voted to redefine marriage, and which lawmakers voted to protect marriage,” Brian Brown, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, told the Asssociated Press.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, who led a failed push for domestic partnership legislation in New Haven two years ago, said that his reaction to the bill’s passage was “celebratory,” though he added he sees civil unions as a move in the right direction rather than as the end of the discussion.

“I’d say this is a great step forward towards full civic equality,” Healey said. “It doesn’t get all the way there, but it provides at the state level all the rights and responsibilities of married couples.”

In the immediate future, Healey said it is important that the city work quickly to accommodate same-sex couples seeking civil unions.

“I’m sure there’s work that needs to be done at the level of the city clerk, but I’m not sure it requires legislative action,” he said.

Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Rebecca Livengood ’07 said she thinks there is important work to be done to smoothly implement civil unions in New Haven.

“I think that we can start by having conversations with religious leaders around the city,” she said. “I think that we can certainly make sure that we are discouraging people from protesting when people go to have civil unions.”

Yale College Democrats President Alissa Stollwerk ’06 said that her group, along with a number of other campus organizations in the Students United for Marriage Equality coalition, were excited about the bill’s passage but will continue to push for full same-sex marriage legislation.

“We’re so thrilled,” she said. “I think it’s a great victory, [especially] that the bill passed both houses with such strong bipartisan support. I think that while the amendment does define marriage between a man and a woman, I don’t think it takes meaning away from the greater message of the bill.”

But Yale College Republicans President Al Jiwa ’06, who supports civil unions, said he was disappointed by the amendment to the bill.

“While I’m happy that Connecticut is at the forefront of civil union legislation, it’s regrettable that that amendment had to be added for it to pass,” he said.

Yale College Republicans Treasurer Zheyao Li ’06 said he interpreted the bill as a means of recognizing same-sex relationships outside the sphere of marriage.

“As a conservative Republican, I am somewhat wary of the idea of civil unions because I personally support traditional marriage, but I can at the same time understand where the state of Connecticut is coming from in sort of sensing the overall trend, particularly in this region, of moving towards civil unions,” he said.

While Li said he did not know of any organized effort on campus to oppose the civil union bill, he said he believes there would be such opposition to same-sex marriage legislation.

Connecticut joins Vermont as the only place in the nation where same-sex civil unions are currently allowed. Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex marriage.