Thursday, April 23, 2009

Legislature passes gay marriage bill - The Connecticut Post Online

Legislature passes gay marriage bill - The Connecticut Post Online

HARTFORD -- Connecticut would become the first state to codify same-sex marriage after a court order under legislation approved Wednesday night in the General Assembly.

The bill -- a follow-up to the October state Supreme Court ruling that said the 2005 civil-union law was not equal to heterosexual marriage -- would also let religious leaders opt out of performing or hosting such ceremonies, if it is against their beliefs.

It passed the Senate 28-7, after hours of closed-door negotiations and a nearly three-hour debate. The House of Representatives, which began debate at 8 p.m., passed the bill late in the evening. Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Wednesday night that she will sign it.

"This bill is important for many reasons, some of which are legal and many of which are symbolic, but all of which, in my opinion at least, lift us up as a state, not only for gay and lesbian individuals and couples, but for all of us in the state of Connecticut, where we can lift our heads and proudly say we do not discriminate in our state," said Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who introduced the bill.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said that as much as he would have liked the gay marriage issue decided by the General Assembly, the high court has created the legal landscape and requirements for the Legislature to revise existing language in state law.

"Anytime you involve government and religion, we get

into some very difficult issues and tread on ground that many of us don't want to tread," McKinney said. "I think the product before us is a good one and it is one that I believe moves our state forward."

He said that the issues are difficult.

"Regardless of your feelings on same-sex marriage, regardless of your deeply held religious beliefs, which we would ask no one to give up and surrender, our state of Connecticut does recognize same-sex unions,"

McKinney said. "And it is time that as a people that we understand that and that we move forward."

A bipartisan Senate amendment was aimed at smoothing the passage of the issue by specifically allowing religious organizations to withhold services, goods or facilities from same-sex couples.

Faith-based agencies would be allowed to prohibit gay couples from adopting children, if the organizations do not receive any state or federal funding, under the provision.

Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney said the amendment "does the kind of delicate and judicious" balancing of the rights of religious organizations, with the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.

"I think it is crucial that we protect the rights of religious organizations," Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, said during the debate.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, was concerned the legislation would not protect religious charities, particularly since many such agencies receive government funding for some services that have nothing to do with adoption programs.

Throughout the day, dozens of gay and Catholic activists milled around the third-floor hall of the Capitol, near the Senate chamber, wearing lapel stickers that said "Equality" and "Religious Freedom," respectively.

During the debate, the Senate gallery held about 40 spectators. By 9:45, there were only 15 people watching the proceedings.

The law would allow those hundreds of Connecticut couples who were joined in the civil unions to be recognized as married.

Looney said there were recent statewide efforts to "misrepresent" the bill, which became necessary when the Supreme Court ruled last fall. The conservative Family Institute of Connecticut, in particular, took out full-page advertisements in newspapers throughout the state in an attempt to change the legislation.

Since November, when same-sex marriages began after the Supreme Court decision, there have been 214 gay and lesbian couples united in wedlock in Connecticut, a state Department of Public Health spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon.

Another Republican amendment that would further protect religious social service organizations that receive some amount of government funds was approved 34-1. Democrats have a 24-12 edge in the Senate and a 114-37 majority in the House.

McLachlan submitted an amendment that would protect religious organizations that do not have official nonprofit status, such as local chapters of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Knights of Columbus, which have state sales-tax exemptions but not federal nonprofit status.

McDonald said McLachlan's proposal was an attempt to overturn a compromise agreed upon earlier this month in the Judiciary Committee. "We have since discovered that this does present a challenge for commonly acknowledged religious organizations," McLachlan said, adding fraternal organizations will need some "leeway."

The amendment was defeated 24-11.

Later, McLachlan questioned McDonald on some of the motivations of lawmakers who adopted civil rights protections in 1991 that would be eclipsed by the legislation.

"The public, I would suggest, is way ahead of some people who are elected to represent those members of the public," McDonald replied.

"I don't dispute that this is a victory for a number of residents in the state of Connecticut, but with all due respect, there are a number of residents of the state of Connecticut who are not happy with this decision," McLachlan said.

"In my opinion nobody is harmed when our Constitution is upheld," McDonald said.

"I, frankly, am quite discouraged that any court could legislate from the bench," said McLachlan, adding he prayed during the Senate debate, which began at 4:15 p.m. "The reality is there are many people who are being affected by this, who didn't ask for it."

An hour into the House debate, House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he was disappointed Democrats decided early in the evening to run the bill in the House right after the Senate vote.

"Regardless of where anyone in this room stands on the issue of whether people of the same sex should marry or not, nothing, I repeat, nothing you can do will change the fact that as we stand here today, same-sex marriage is the law of the state of Connecticut," Cafero said.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are currently the only states that allow same-sex marriage, although it will become legal in Vermont on Sept. 1 and in Iowa on Monday. Massachusetts lawmakers have not formalized the court order that created its marriage law in 2004.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director for the Family Institute, said after the Senate vote the amendments made the legislation a lot more palatable.

"It made a bad bill better," he told reporters, adding the amendments have added protections far beyond the bill that was approved by the Judiciary Committee. "It's not perfect. I would have liked to have seen more. I still don't like this bill. But this has been a good day for religious liberty in Connecticut."

Anne Stanback, president of Love Makes a Family, the umbrella group of organizations that in recent years has lobbied for gay rights, said the legislative action goes a long way toward adding important legal protections for same-sex couples.

"Today, fairness won out over fear," Stanback said. "I think what was particularly significant was that none of the amendments that had been pushed by the Family Institute that were filled with misinformation were raised in the Senate and we don't expect them to be raised in the House."
How they voted The following is the roll call vote for Western Connecticut state senators on the gay marriage bill, which passed 28-7. YES Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven Sen. Gayle S. Slossberg, D-Milford Sen. Joseph J. Crisco Jr., D-Woodbridge Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton Sen. Anthony J. Musto, D-Trumbull Sen. Edwin A. Gomes, D-Bridgeport Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton Sen. Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen Sen. Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven NO Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury

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