Connecticut Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill

Connecticut’s Senate has passed a bill that would legalize same-sex civil unions. It is expected to pass the House and likely to be signed by Republican Governor Jodi Rell.

Conn. Senate Approves Civil Unions Bill (AP)

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would make Connecticut the first state, absent court pressure, to recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. Senators voted 27-9 in favor of the legislation, which proponents say will likely clear the House of Representatives, possibly as early as next week. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has not taken a stand on the bill, but has said she supports the concept of civil unions. “I believe that our most precious and important job is to make sure the rights of all our citizens are protected where they exist and expanded where they don’t exist,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Ann Handley, who is part of a group of legislators who plan to press for gay marriage in Connecticut.

As I’ve written repeatedly, this is the right way for major changes in the social construct to occur. Rather than having it ordered by activist courts, the people’s representatives should be the ones to make these decisions. Within a decade or so, I predict most states will have come around on this one.

The AP has conducted a poll in Connecticut which shows support for civil unions but not gay marriage:

Poll: civil unions backed, gay marriage opposed (Newsday)

When it comes to same-sex relationships, Connecticut residents back civil unions, but not gay marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. The poll was released the day after the state Senate voted 27-9 in favor of a bill to allow civil unions, which would give gay and lesbian couples many of the same rights as married couples. The poll found 56 percent of registered voters support civil unions, however, when it comes to actual marriage, 53 percent of those polled oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry.

In a breakdown of poll results according to political party affiliation, Democrats back both civil unions and gay marriage, 66 percent and 53 percent respectively. Republicans are narrowly divided on civil unions, 45 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed, but 70 percent oppose gay marriage.

Despite growing support for gay unions, the political trends are mixed:

The vote came a day after Kansas became the 18th state to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Thirteen other states passed such prohibitions last year, while Alabama, South Dakota and Tennessee plan elections next year on constitutional bans.

My guess, though, is that the impetus behind most of these measures is fear that the courts will force gay marriage on the states absent such amendments. It’s understandable that they’re being passed on those grounds but regretable in that they will make it harder for the natural evolution in public opinion on this to become affirmed in the law.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Larry says:

    Is there an actual difference between civil unions and gay marriages? Or is it all semantics?

  2. James Joyner says:

    It’s more-or-less semantics. “Marriage” has a religious-cultural significance that “civil unions” don’t. For all practical purposes, it’s the same, though.

    Also, depending on whether DOMA is deemed constitutional, states might be more free to ignore “civil unions” recognized in other states.

  3. denise says:

    OTOH, it could be that the polling numbers are skewed. They certainly were in Kansas. Pre-election polling showed the DOM amendment passing by a vote of 54% to 46%. It turned out to be a little bit higher: 70% to 30%.

  4. southernman says:

    Semantics is what it is all about. You see “civil unions” implies a legal status, “marriage” implies a religious sacrement before God.

    That’s the whole thing in a nutshell right there…people don’t want anyone changing their religious sacrements.

  5. Scott Dillard says:

    Southernman, you are correct. That’s why everyone should get a license from the state for a civil union. If you want a religious ceremony that makes it a “marriage” in your denomination, then you are free to do so. The religious ceremony in itself means nothing, legally. By leaving “marriage” to religion, everyone can have a civil union without any religion being forced to perform or recognize “marriage” for any couple. Each religion has its own guidelines. It’s just like divorce; the Catholic church does not recognize divorce, or marry divorced people That doesn’t stop divorce from existing in the civil arena.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Denise: Polling measures only opinion, not intensity. Churches do an excellent job of mobilizing their congregations to get out and vote.

  7. denise says:

    True, James, but from what I saw around here, the “vote no” side was at least as highly mobilized and motivated as the “vote yes” side.

    I saw at least a dozen “vote no” signs around and only one “vote yes” (and that happened to be after the election was over). My husband said he got a half dozen vote no calls in the 2-3 days before the election; I only got one. No one called us to say vote yes.

    I believe there were a lot of closted yes voters. The same was true with the 2004 election. The Kerry voters were very vocal before and after the election; the Bush voters kept their mouths shut.

    Btw, I answered the phone poll. It was conducted on a Sunday. That might have accounted for part of the skew.

  8. denise says:

    On another note, just wanted to clarify that not all churches do get out the vote drives. The Catholic churches in particular, at least in this state, do not. And the DOM amendment was not mentioned at all in any mass I attended.

  9. Just Me says:

    I agree that this is the way the changes should occur. I think half the reason the states are passing the constitutional amendment measures is because they want the debate to occur in the legislature, not be imposed through the judiciary.

    I have long thought that the move towards gay marriage was pushed too soon and too fast, and didn’t belong in the courts but the legislature.

    I do think that the issue of civil union/marriage is more one of semantics, but an important difference. By shooting the moon for “marriage” those in favor have probably harmed the civil union movement as well in the backlash to the gay marriage movement.

  10. southernman says:

    I have relatives who say that “civil rights” legislation was pushed “to soon and too fast”. Maybe they were right also.

  11. Radar says:

    Sigh. I’m so tired of hearing the phrase “activist judges”. Why are they only called this when someone disagrees with their constitutional interpretations?

    If you disagree with a court ruling it isn’t sufficient to blame it on activist judges. You have to actually argue against the logic of their decision.

    In the same-sex marriage rulings that I’ve read, the courts have based their rulings on the concept of equal application of the laws and due process. That is to say it is unconstitutional (generally referencing state constitutions in this case, as the supreme court hasn’t taken up such a case yet) for a legislature to pass a law that is applicable only to some individuals and not others. This concept of individual rights applicable to everyone and equally applied is the foundation of our system of laws and justice. A system of laws that grants tax benefits, medical rights, retirement benefits (social security), etc. on an unequal basis doesn’t adhere to this principle, which is basically what these “activist judges” are saying. A state is free to amend their constitution making such system of laws coherent within the state constitutional framework. It remains to be seen if such a system is considered constitutional under federal law.

    The argument that the “institution of marriage” must be preserved doesn’t hold water with me. Murderers can get married, convicted wife beaters can get married, Brittany Spears can get married on a whim. To turn around and say that two men or two women getting married is somehow intrinsically damaging to the institution while all these others situations are tolerated just doesn’t make sense.

    This country is founded on the idea of *individual* rights and the freedom for an individual to define the meaning of their life, explore their liberty, and pursue their happiness on their own terms as long as they respect the right for others to do the same. The idea that someone has to justify their relationship with another person to the government, to prove to the government that it is “OK” is in direct conflict with these basic principles.

    It should be noted that gay couples can get married, in the religious sense, without any permission from the government, their neighbors, the town council, or anyone else. This entire debate is not about religious marriage it is about civil benefits that are unfairly withheld from some citizens due to the nature of their private, consensual relationships.