March 24, 2008 | last updated May 26, 2012 3:49 am
INFLUENCE

Signs Of Spring: The Marriage Debate

It's become another rite of spring — the annual debate in the legislature about same-sex marriage.

Since Connecticut legalized civil unions in 2005, neither side of the controversial subject has been completely satisfied.

Gay and lesbian advocates, led by Love Makes A Family, have argued that civil unions are inadequate and do not provide enough rights or benefits.

At the same time, those opposed to civil unions to begin with, such as the Family Institute of Connecticut, are constantly concerned about the possibility of same-sex marriage because they believe it is a "direct frontal assault on the sanctity of marriage."

The subject recently took center stage in a roundabout way as an amendment to Connecticut's civil union laws had a public hearing at the Capitol. The proposed legislation would recognize same-sex marriages from other states as legal in Connecticut.

Equal Rights Roadblocks

Both sides agree the legislation is merely a prelude to a broader debate, likely to heat up in 2009, on legalizing same-sex marriages conducted here.

"From our perspective, it's not so much about legal unions because we know they are inadequate," said Anne Stanback, executive director of Love Makes A Family. "You can't really fix civil unions because they are too confusing and there aren't enough legal rights."

Stanback has argued that same-sex couples in civil unions have been denied services in hospitals, funeral homes, state agencies and courts because the extent of their legality is unclear. She described the situation as unfair for same-sex couples to face "additional burdens and hardships."

Peter Wolfgang, executive director for the Family Institute of Connecticut, disagrees. "The real purpose of this is to give legal significance to gay marriage even though the state defined marriage as between a man and woman in 2005," said Wolfgang, a registered lobbyist for the Family Institute. "You can see how powerful their lobby has become since they're able to waste a whole day of the legislature's time talking about this."

Advocating Tradition

The Family Institute is also represented by Dolores Malloy from Malloy & Associates. Love Makes A Family has three in-house lobbyists and three lobbyists from Betty Gallo & Co. They are just two of the many groups vying for legislators' attention.

Because of the nature of the debate, both sides realize that legislators have already taken a stand one way or another. But that doesn't mean the lobbying ever stops.

"Actually, we have more activity out in the field than we've ever had before," Stanback said. "I really believe that legislators are moving in our direction."

Stanback said her lobbying efforts are focused on explaining to legislators the roadblocks same-sex couples still face.

"As they become more familiar with the situation, it becomes a matter of time," she said. "I have no doubt that we're going to get same-sex marriage legalized, whether it's through the courts or the legislature."

Tax Issues

Despite the support same-sex marriages in Connecticut received last year, its failure to succeed suggests that legalization is anything but inevitable.

"We know that we can't sway the judiciary committee," Wolfgang said of the committee holding the latest same-sex marriage public hearing. "They are so far gone from the rest of the legislature. We have no illusion about them. We know what they're trying to do with this bill, and I don't think it's going to happen."

Wolfgang also said same-sex marriages are not legal under the federal tax code.

"This legislation could also begin the process for a ridiculous subsidy that would give tax credits to same-sex couples," he said. "We're sorry they disagree with the tax code, but we're not going to allow that."

Sean O'Leary is a Hartford Business Journal staff writer.

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