CommunityPam's House Blend

Connecticut conflict: civil unions vs. marriage for gays

Anne Stanback of Love Makes a Family is adamant that civil unions are separate and unequal to civil marriage and that gays shouldn’t settle for the half-way measure. Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell is opposed to marriage, but hasn’t taken a clear stand on civil unions.

What a can of worms this opens. I look forward to seeing how this debate unfolds in this state, which has a Republican governor — but public support for both civil unions and marriage. (PlanetOut):

At the start of a legislative session that could for the first time give gay couples legal civil unions in Connecticut, one influential gay rights group says civil unions aren’t good enough. Love Makes a Family, a coalition advocating marriage rights for same-sex couples, said that it has sent letters to friendly state legislators saying that they want the state to give gay couples equal marriage rights — not civil unions, which the letter said confers a “less than” or “second-class” status on the couples’ relationships.

The world changed after Massachusetts,” said Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family. “In many states, getting civil unions would be considered a significant victory, but for Connecticut that’s a step in the wrong direction. If they were to pass civil unions they might not have the appetite to come back and vote for marriage. We’ve seen that happen in Vermont. Connecticut has never set up a separate system for one group of people like this.”

The tension reflects a national debate in the LGBT community, as some leaders agree that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has made civil unions an option that is less than equal, and therefore unacceptable. Others, however, argue civil unions (or domestic partnerships) are better than no legal recognition at all.

I am, as usual, conflicted about this dilemma. Civil unions will provide basic protections for gay couples, but the fact that the hard-fought rights end at the state line is a huge problem (leaving aside the over 1,000 federal benefits that aren’t addressed). However, I keep thinking about wingnut states like Virginia, that passed the heinously oppressive legislation that prevents gay couples from even entering into legal agreements that approximate the benefits of marriage. Is the all-or-nothing approach going to result in even more states going Virginia’s way?

According to the Hartford Courant, legislative experts in Connecticut said there might not be enough support in the state House for same-sex marriage, whereas there has been significant support for a civil unions bill. Even a leading House conservative, influential House Minority Leader Robert Ward, a Republican from North Branford, said he supports it. The Connecticut Legislature has been seriously considering the idea of rights for gay couples since 2001, when it held an informational meeting on the topic. A poll conducted by the University of Connecticut in April of last year found broad public support: 74 percent of residents support civil unions. Comparatively, the support of marriage is not as solid: 49 percent of residents support marriage for gay couples, with 46 percent against it.

And even if marriage legislation were to get through the Legislature, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she strongly opposed marriage; her opinion on civil unions is murkier. State legislators have said they may still consider a civil union bill anyway. Love Makes a Family has said it will work toward a marriage bill instead.

Civil unions stop at the state line; they are not equal to marriage, and that’s what we’re going to try to get legislators and the public to understand,” Stanback said. “You know, there are so many kids being raised by gay couples in this state — those kids understand what marriage is. How can we explain to them that their family’s relationship is not as good as their best friend’s family across the street? As a group that is advocating for full equality, that’s what we want. We don’t want a status that is second-class.”

Will this conflict over civil unions vs. marriage Balkanize our Union, with gays forced to migrate to favorable states with second class status civil unions (save Massachusetts)?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding