Eight same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in Connecticut got their first hearing in court Tuesday, with their attorney arguing that marriage was a fundamental right that could not be denied to a certain group of citizens.
The state permits gay and lesbian couples to obtain civil unions, but such partnerships don't provide all of the intangible benefits that come with a marriage license, said Bennett Klein, a lawyer with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.
"Marriage is more than a bundle of legal rights," he said.
But, asked Superior Court Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman, is that sufficient to revise the state's marriage laws? "I'm still troubled ... whether there is enough legal harm," she said.
Jenkins Pittman must weigh Klein's argument about the fundamental right to marry against Assistant Atty. Gen. Jane Rosenberg's assertion that no such right exists under state law.
"All the rights and benefits have been granted," said Rosenberg, who represented the state. "It's unclear what we're left with other than the word 'marriage.' "
GLAD, a Boston-based group that advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender civil rights in all six New England states, filed the lawsuit in Connecticut in August 2004 after the eight couples were denied marriage licenses.
The following spring, the Legislature passed -- and Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed -- a landmark bill permitting Connecticut couples to enter into civil unions. Only Massachusetts allows gays to marry, the result of a legal victory won by GLAD in late 2004.
At one point during the two-hour hearing, Jenkins Pittman asked Rosenberg how a ban on gay marriage differed from a ban on interracial marriage.
Race is not traditionally a factor in marriage, said Rosenberg, unlike the gender of the partners.
Jenkins Pittman said she expected to issue a decision soon. She could rule in a number of ways, including leaving the state statutes alone, finding that current laws violate same-sex couples' rights, or deferring the matter to the Legislature.
However, her ruling almost certainly won't be the final word. Her decision is expected to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.