Gay Couples To Start To Marry In Connecticut

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While there's anger and recriminations in California's gay-rights movement after voters there banned same-sex marriage, gay couples in Connecticut are at the opposite extreme: They're getting ready to pick up marriage license forms.

Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert has scheduled a hearing Wednesday morning to enter the final judgment in the case that allows same-sex marriages in Connecticut. Once entered, couples can pick up marriage license forms at town and city clerk's offices.

It's unclear how many couples will wed. According to the state public health department, there have been 2,032 civil union licenses issued in Connecticut between Oct. 2005 and July 2008.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the right to wed rather than accept a civil union law designed to give them the same rights as married couples.

The health department had new marriage applications printed that reflect the change. Instead of putting one name under "bride" and the other under "groom," couples will see two boxes marked "bride/groom/spouse."

Only Connecticut and Massachusetts have legalized gay marriage.

The unions were legal in California until a statewide referendum to ban gay marriage narrowly passed last week. The vote has sparked protests and several lawsuits asking that state's Supreme Court to overturn the prohibition.

Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage also passed last week in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

But in Connecticut, voters rejected the idea of a constitutional convention to amend the state's constitution, dealing a major blow to opponents of same-sex marriage.

"There's always that worry in the back of our head," Peg Oliveira said about the possibility of someday losing her marriage rights. "I don't see it going in that direction right now."

Oliveira, a 36-year-old yoga teacher and educational consultant, plans to marry Jennifer Vickery, a 44-year-old lawyer, on the New Haven green on Wednesday. Oliveira said marriage will make clear her spouse's rights to raise their 3-month-old baby if something should happen to her.

"We're thrilled and we don't want to wait one minute," she said. "I want to show the folks who worked so hard to make this possible that we are very grateful and we don't want to wait any longer to be able to say the words `We are married.'"

Oliveira and Vickery did not enter into a civil union, believing the arrangement would have signaled to lawmakers that they had done enough.

"There's a world of understanding to the word marriage that simply doesn't exist with civil unions," Oliveira said. "The relationship feels validated by the external world."

The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, condemned the high court's decision as undemocratic. Peter Wolfgang, the group's executive director, acknowledged banning gay marriage in Connecticut would be difficult but vowed not to give up.

"Unlike California, we did not have a remedy," Wolfgang said. "It must be overturned with patience, determination and fortitude."

The state's 2005 civil union law will remain on the books, at least for now. Same-sex couples can continue to enter civil unions, which give them the same legal rights and privileges in Connecticut as married couples without the status of being married.

State Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers will have to decide the fate of the civil union law.

"We'll definitely be taking this up," he said. The new legislative session opens in January.


Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford contributed to this report.

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