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marriage equality in Connecticut
High Court Grants Gay Marriage Rights
By MARK SPENCER, ALAINE GRIFFIN And DANIELA ALTIMARI
Courant Staff Writers
12:10 PM EDT, October 10, 2008
Beth Kerrigan and Jody Mock sat hunkered down in front of their computer in their West Hartford home Friday morning, sifting through the voluminous Supreme Court decision in their case seeking the right to marry as a same-sex couple.
When they realized they had won on a 4-3 decision, they embraced and sobbed in each others' arms.
A moment later, Kerrigan and Mock looked at each other and asked, at the same time, "Will you marry me?"
"Yes, I will," they replied in unison.
Kerrigan looked around the room and asked "Is there a justice of the peace in the house?"
Mock said, "So we're getting married!"
The Supreme Court released its historic ruling at 11:30 a.m. Citing the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the justices ruled that civil unions were discriminatory and that the state's "understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection."
"Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice," the majority wrote. "To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others."
In a statement released minutes after the decision was announced, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she disagreed with it, but uphold it. She said she was proud to sign the state's civil unions law in 2005, the first in the nation enacted without a court mandate, and thought it was "equitable and just."
"The Supreme Court has spoken," Rell said. "I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision -- either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution -- will not meet with success. I will therefore abide by the ruling."
Opponents were obviously disappointed in the ruling. "The court has just usurped democracy in Connecticut and redefined marriage by judical force,'' said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
The opposition will now turn its sights to the November election, when voters will be asked whether the state should convene a constitutional convention. "Connecticut voters will have one opportunity on Nov. 4 to reassert their right to self government. We must vote yes.''
Unsatisfied with the civil unions, eight same-sex couples had brought the case, Kerrigan v. the state Commissioner of Public Health, after they were denied marriage licenses in 2004 by the Madison town clerk, who was following instructions issued by the state attorney general's office.
The state, arguing that civil unions already provide all the rights and protections of marriage, prevailed in a Superior Court ruling in July 2006. The couples appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which heard three hours of arguments on the case in May 2007.
Attorney Bennett Klein, arguing on behalf of the couples, told the court that civil unions were a "less prestigious, less advantageous institution."
The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders law firm representing the couples pursued numerous legal arguments, contending that same-sex marriage was both a fundamental right and guaranteed under the ban on sexual anti-sexual discrimination in the constitution.
Klein also argued that the couples are being discriminated against based on sexual orientation.
But the argument the justices seemed most intrigued by is whether sexual orientation entitles the couples to status as a ``suspect class'' of people, entitled to greater protection due to a history of long-term discrimination and political powerlessness.
If the justices determined that gay and lesbian couples fall into this status, they would more intensely scrutinize the state's motives in distinguishing between civil unions and marriage, and whether they were rational, and narrowly tailored.
It was this type of analysis, also presented by GLAD lawyers, that formed the underpinnings of the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that afforded same-sex couples the right to marry.
Assistant State's Attorney General Jane R. Rosenberg again argued that same-sex couples were being treated fairly by the state.
``No rights have been taken away from this group,'' she argued. ``They have been granted a license with all the rights and benefits of marriage. What's different is their license happens to say civil union and not marriage.
``Is the legislature constitutionally required to use the word `marriage' when referring to the packaging of benefits the legislature has given to same-sex couples? '' she asked. ``There is nothing in the words `civil union' that implies anything inferior.''
Rosenberg urged the high court to steer clear of what should be a public policy debate in the legislature, and not ``enshrine one policy choice as a matter of constitutional law,'' quoting a 1995 ruling of the court that welfare is not a fundamental right under the Connecticut Constitution.
The court's ruling today will likely be the final judicial judgment in the case because it it based on the state constitution, rather then the U.S. constitution.
But the often emotional, contentious debate over gay marriage is far from over.
If the court rules against the couples, the legislature can still grant the right to marry. The judiciary committee voted in favor of a gay marriage bill in 2007, but supporters decided the time was not right to push the controversial measure. No bill came out of committee this year, as legislators waited to see what the court would do.
If the court grants same-sex couples the right to marry, opponents could seek a constitutional amendment to ban it. California voters will decide in November if their constitution should ban gay marriage, after that state's Supreme court recent ruling to allow it.
In Connecticut, a question is on the November ballot on whether to hold a constitutional convention. Supporters want to change the constitution to allow "direct initiatives," which would potentially open the door for anti-gay rights groups to seek a ban on same-sex marriage.
A rally sponsored by the conservative Family Institute to urge to court to reject the lawsuit and voters to approve the constitutional convention drew about 2,800 people to the state Capitol Sept. 28.
GLAAD and Love Makes A Family have scheduled a rally at the Capitol at 5:30 p.m. today.