Although landmark legislation instituting civil unions for same-sex couples in Connecticut went into effect Saturday, few couples showed up to City Hall yesterday to take part in the process.
The new law marks the first time in the country that civil unions have been enacted by a legislature rather than a court order. But when the Office of Vital Statistics specially opened its doors at 9 a.m. on Saturday in honor of the law, three couples were present. Over the course of the day, only a handful of couples appeared, all unaccompanied by friends, supporters or protestors.
Waterbury resident Linda Drazen, accompanied by her partner of 23 years, Meg Bloom, said she was surprised so few couples had shown up. Drazen said she and Bloom had attended a number of legal information sessions on the rights conferred by civil unions that had been packed with people expressing interest in formalizing their relationships.
“We showed up early because we expected a long line,” Drazen said. “We wanted to be part of Connecticut history.”
Couples spent about 15 minutes filling in forms that identified them as “party 1” and “party 2.” Most of the couples then met with a justice of the peace, who led them through a standard set of vows and pronounced their civil union complete. Upstairs, an ivy-covered trellis upstairs set up to give couples a place to say their vows remained empty for most of the afternoon. Instead, the majority of couples said their vows in a quiet corner accompanied by a justice of the peace.
“I, Joseph, take George for my lifelong partner, to have and to hold, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, till death do us part,” one man, who asked not to be named, said to his partner during the union ceremony.
The civil unions law gives couples all the rights of marriage under state law, including hospital visitation, inheritance, worker’s compensation and family leave rights, as well as the right to own a house jointly. But couples are not recognized federally, so numerous marriage rights, like joint income tax forms and some health insurance rights, are still unavailable to those receiving civil unions.
A statement released by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 last week said Connecticut would also recognize civil unions from other states, as well as some domestic partnerships, but not same-sex marriages.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Rebecca Livengood ’07 said civil unions were both an important occasion and another step in the fight for marriage equality.
“This is a wonderful moment for Connecticut, but it does not represent the end of the fight for equality,” she said. “Even so, it will make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Despite her happiness on the occasion, Bloom said she felt constricted by the lack of protection for rights granted under civil unions in other states.
“We can’t move, and we can’t even travel with these protections,” she said. “If we went to the state of Virginia, all our rights would disappear.”
Unlike Bloom, New Haven resident Derek Holcomb — whose partner of 22 years, Kenneth Schlesinger DRA ’84, lives in New York — expressed few concerns about the law. He said the rights and recognition a civil union grants are better than nothing.
“This isn’t something we were even looking for, but when it came along we figured we’d take it,” Holocomb said.
He said despite the limits of the law, he and his partner plan to celebrate.
“We’re going to have a ceremony with vows,” Holcomb said. “We’ll stuff ’em into our backyard and have a great time.”
Activists said they partially attribute low turnout to a sense of ambivalence among same-sex couples. New Haven marriage activist Cyd Slotoroff, who has worked with the statewide same-sex marriage rights coalition Love Makes a Family, said many same-sex couples were struggling to decide whether to accept what they saw as only a partial solution. Slotoroff flew to Oregon last year and married her partner only to find out later that all certificates granting marriage to same-sex couples were being revoked by the state.
In reference to the Connecticut law, Slotoroff said people may have been tempted to wait for a day when same-sex marriage would be legal.
“It’s a difficult decision because despite getting some rights, it’s still second-class citizenship,” Slotoroff said.
Jason Blau ’07, founder of Students Advocating for Marriage Equality, which campaigned for civil unions last spring, said many issues could have contributed to the low turnout. Now that the law has been passed, Blau said, civil unions are less of an issue in Connecticut.
“In other states, when it was implemented by the courts, there was a sense of urgency — it could be taken away at any moment,” he said. “Here, people know they can do it any time.”