Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres waited nine hours for his turn to speak — but for the opportunity to fight for what he called the most pressing civil rights issue of our time, Ayres didn’t mind the wait.

More than 50 Connecticut residents — including two of Ayres’ Yale colleagues and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano — joined him in testifying in front of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee on Monday regarding a proposed bill to allow gay marriage. Hundreds of others packed the hearing room and two overflow rooms to listen to the testimony. But legislators say the bill is unlikely to pass, and Governor M. Jodi Rell has already pledged to veto it if it does.

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Ayres, who testified with his wife, Quinnipiac University law professor Jennifer Brown, said allowing gays the right to a civil union but not to marriage is discriminatory.

“Under current law, marriage is like a ‘whites only’ water fountain,” Ayres and Brown said at the hearing. “Civil union in Connecticut has not solved this problem, because it rests upon a ‘separate but equal’ theory long discredited in our constitutional history.”

Yale Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand took a day off from work and testified in favor of the bill. Yale Law School professor Harlon Dalton also testified, though Dalton, who is also an adjunct professor at the Yale Divinity School, spoke from his theological background as associate rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James in New Haven. Allowing gays to marry, Dalton said, would further the mission of the church because marriage provides an outward manifestation of God’s grace.

The hearing was only another round in a debate that has gone on in the state and at the General Assembly for several years, said Rep. Mike Lawlor, Democrat of East Haven and chair of the Judiciary Committee. Just as Connecticut residents and legislators were persuaded to support civil union legislation two years ago — the state was the first in the nation to allow civil unions without being forced to do so by a court — people now must grow comfortable with using the term marriage instead of civil union, Lawlor said.

He predicted a gay marriage law would pass before the end of the Rell administration, though he said it would probably not come during this legislative session. The leadership of the Judiciary Committee will decide within the next two weeks whether to put the bill to a vote, Lawlor said, and there appears to be a 50-50 chance that the bill will make it to the General Assembly.

“I’ll be the first to concede the votes are not there to pass this [in the General Assembly],” Lawlor said. “It might be in range in the Senate, but not so much in the House.”

Rell has vowed to veto any law institutionalizing gay marriage.

But the several local and state government officials who testified did not appear to be deterred by Rell’s promised veto. DeStefano, who supported gay marriage in his failed 2006 gubernatorial bid, spoke of the equality that the bill would create for same-sex couples. Others who testified in support of the bill included DeStefano’s former opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, as well as Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, State Treasurer Denise Nappier, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz.

Although most of the big-name officials testified in favor of the law, residents and activists on both sides of the issue turned out in force, with some gay marriage foes traveling from as far as Washington, D.C., and Canada to speak out against the bill. Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, spoke in opposition to the bill and said the state should pass a constitutional amendment protecting the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, lest the courts intervene otherwise.

“Same-sex marriage severs the tie between marriage and parenthood,” he said. “It gives the state stamp of approval on an institution that creates permanent motherlessness and fatherlessness, [and] it is an untested social experiment on our state’s children.”

On a statewide level, 39 percent of Connecticut residents say gays should be allowed to marry, while 33 percent support civil unions but not gay marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last month. Twenty-two percent said there should be no legal recognition of a same-sex union, the poll said.