Connecticut became the second state to allow same-sex civil unions, and the first to do so without a court order, as the governor signed the controversial bill into law on Wednesday.
The bill extends the rights and privileges of marriage, but stops short of granting marriage licenses, to same-sex couples. Vermont is the only other state that recognizes same-sex unions and Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, but in both states the actions were motivated by court rulings.
Approved by the Senate, the bill passed the House last Wednesday by an 85 to 63 vote. The House added two amendments: a definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and a restriction on civil unions to couples 18 and over.
The Senate approved the amended bill by a vote of 28 to 8 on Wednesday morning, and Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell signed it into law about an hour later.
Rell had initially expressed doubt over the bill because of concerns that it could be used to allow same-sex marriage. Rend lended her support for the bill after the amendment defining marriage was added.
I have said all along that I believe in no discrimination of any kind, said Rell. I think this bill accomplishes that, while at the same time preserving the traditional language that a marriage is between a man and a woman.
Some gay rights proponents called the new law a bittersweet victory, saying that civil unions are discriminatory. They seek full recognition of marriage within the state.
Pro-family groups argue that the bill essentially allows same-sex marriage, though under a different name. They had hoped for a veto from Rell and plan to continue efforts to protect traditional marriage. Court challenges are expected.
The new law will take effect on October 1. Last week, Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski supported a similar bill in Oregon. The states Supreme Court ruled the next day to nullify 3,000 same-sex marriage licenses, but left the door open for legislature to decide on civil unions.