A bill allowing same-sex civil unions in Connecticut passed in the House on Wednesday. Opponents vow to continue their fight to defeat the measure.
The proposed bill extends the rights and privileges of marriage, but stops short of granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The measure, approved by the Senate last week, passed the House by an 85 to 63 vote on Wednesday night, after several hours of debate.
If the legislation becomes law, Connecticut would be the first state to allow same-sex civil unions without being prompted by a court order. Vermont recognizes same-sex civil unions and Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, but in both states the actions were motivated by court rulings.
Opponents criticized the bill, saying that it essentially allows same-sex marriage, though under a different name. Proponents argued that the legislation simply protects the equal rights of all citizens, and will not change Connecticuts marriage laws.
Despite the defeat, supporters of traditional marriage won a small victory with the passage of a House amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. A second amendment was added stating that those who seek civil unions must be 18 or older.
The Senate is expected to vote on the amended version of the bill next week. If it passes, the bill will be sent to Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell.
Rell has expressed doubts over the bill because it might be used to allow same-sex marriages. She was assured by Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who stated that Emphatically, unequivocally, without any doubt, this law in no way would permit same-sex marriages in Connecticut.
The addition of the amendment defining marriage further assured Rell.
In a statement, Rell supported the bill, saying, Passage of this bill will extend civil rights to all couples, no matter their gender, and send the unmistakable message that discrimination in any form is unacceptable in Connecticut.
Opponents disagreed, saying that the proposed legislation is an attempt to undermine state marriage laws. Several hundred people gathered at the Capitol Wednesday morning to protest the bill. They plan to continue their efforts to defeat the bill, seeking a veto if the Senate approves the amended version.
Also on Wednesday, Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski announced his plans to pursue a similar law allowing same-sex civil unions in Oregon. The states Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on Thursday on a whether or not to approve 3,000 marriage licenses that were given to same-sex couples last year.