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Crowds Jam Gay Marriage Hearing
Replacing Pedro Segarra and Charlie Ortiz's civil union document with a marriage certificate won't deepen the Hartford couple's commitment to one another and it certainly won't grant them any more rights under the law.
But it would make a world of difference in how the world views their 10-year relationship, said Segarra, a lawyer and a member of the Hartford city council who was one of dozens of people to testify Monday at a legislative hearing on a bill legalizing gay marriage.
"I try to explain a civil union to my younger nieces and nephews but they don't understand,'' Segarra said as he stood outside the packed hearing room. "It's so complicated. It would be so much simpler to just say we're married.''
Nearly two years after lawmakers passed a bill permitting civil unions, lawmakers were back discussing gay marriage. Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue came to the Capitol to weigh in and to listen during a hearing in the Legislative Office Building that stretched on into Monday night. The hearing was so jammed with people that the Capitol police had to set up an overflow room -- then an overflow for the overflow room -- so the crowd could see and hear what was happening.
Opponents of the bill agreed with supporters on one fact: At its heart, this was a debate over the meaning of marriage.
"I agree with advocates of gay marriage that the word `marriage' matters,'' said Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy in Washington, D.C. Limiting marriage to heterosexuals only is no more discriminatory than restricting Social Security benefits to older folks, she said.
Moreover, Gallagher and other critics say, rewriting the state's marriage statutes would have profound consequences for society. "Marriage is older than the state of Connecticut," she said. "You're talking about putting a big new thought into the law."
Some lawmakers had similar concerns. Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, compared the measure to the march toward suburbanization in the 1950s, saying that nobody could conceive of problematic issues such as urban sprawl a half-century ago. When it comes to gay marriage, he said, "I wonder what the consequences to ... society are going to be."
And, said Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, changing the law won't necessarily change public opinion, something that many supporters believe.
In 2005, Connecticut became the second state to allow civil unions, which provide same-sex couples with all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage under state law.
Vermont and New Jersey also allow civil unions and California permits gays and lesbians to enter into domestic partnerships; Massachusetts is the only state that permits gay marriage.
The state's civil unions law, while providing many tangible benefits, does not go far enough, the bill's backers said.
Even if the General Assembly approves the gay marriage bill, same-sex couples would not gain any federal rights, because the federal government does not recognize gay marriage.
Supporters say they expect the bill will come up for a vote sometime this session. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the civil unions bill in 2005, has indicated in the past that she does not support gay marriage.
But Anne Stanback, president of the gay rights coalition Love Makes a Family, is undaunted. "I have confidence that if she sits and listens to our stories, she'll see it's the fair thing to do.''
Contact Daniela Altimari at firstname.lastname@example.org