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Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, outside her office in Hartford yesterday after signing the bill into law.
Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, outside her office in Hartford yesterday after signing the bill into law. (AP Photo)

Conn. approves gay civil unions

Page 2 of 2 -- Connecticut bears some of the same political leanings of Massachusetts. Its voter base is considered moderately liberal, its governor is a Republican, and it has a heavy concentration of Catholics. Supporters of same-sex marriage had hoped to ride the wave of momentum from Massachusetts when they submitted legislation to permit marriage for gays and lesbians.

''Massachusetts had a profound impact on the debate here," said Andrew McDonald, the openly gay chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a chief proponent of civil unions. ''People took notice of that -- that a state had adopted same-sex unions and not been diminished one bit."

Lawmakers initially introduced a measure that would legalize same-sex marriages, but it soon became clear that support was not strong enough. Lawmakers amended the bill to substitute the less-controversial proposal for civil unions. The move split supporters of gay marriage, some of whom later came to view it as a reasonable compromise.

Polls have consistently indicated that Connecticut voters largely support civil unions but oppose gay marriage. The most recent, conducted by Quinnipiac University and released earlier this month, showed that Connecticut voters opposed same-sex marriage, 53 to 42 percent, but 56 percent of them support civil unions.

The House of Representatives passed the civil-unions bill last week 85 to 63 after six hours of debate, and the Senate passed it yesterday by 26 to 8 after only an hour of debate.

Rell, a Republican who took office last July after a corruption scandal led to the imprisonment of her predecessor, John G. Rowland, had said early in the debate that she opposed same-sex marriage but supported civil unions.

Yesterday, Rell signed the bill an hour after its passage in a public ceremony -- in contrast to former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who faced criticism from gay activists when he signed his state's civil-union bill behind closed doors in what some said was an effort to deflect media attention.

Legislators were mum yesterday on whether they would reintroduce legislation to permit same-sex marriage in Connecticut. ''We are thrilled to have the governor's support and what happens tomorrow or in the months ahead is not what we're focused on," McDonald said.

Senate Republican leader Lou DeLuca, who voted against the civil-union measure, said he expects to see gay-marriage legislation introduced. ''This is just one step on the way to what I believe runs contrary to the will of the people of Connecticut," DeLuca said.

Brown, of the Family Institute of Connecticut, agreed. ''Some legislators thought civil unions was a way out," he said. ''They falsely think it is some kind of compromise, but the proponents have made clear that civil unions is only a steppingstone to full same-sex marriage."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report 

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