Tears were Barbara LeCornec’s eyes as she watched her friends, a gay couple together for more than seven years, become one of the first to enter into a civil union in the state of Connecticut last Saturday morning.
“This is such an emotional time,” LeCornec said with a soft smile, standing proudly in the foyer of the Stamford City Hall and looking on as the city’s mayor, Dannel Malloy, presided over her friends’ civil union ceremony. “Those are my boys.”
LeCornec and her longtime partner Maureen Boylan, as well as many other gay and lesbian couples, entered into civil unions Saturday around Connecticut, as the state become only the second in the country, after Vermont, to allow same-sex civil unions; and the first to extend civil union rights to its gay and lesbian residents without a court order. The Vermont Legislature and then-Governor Howard Dean created civil unions in 2000 in response to an order from the state Supreme Court the previous December.
Couples waited in line Saturday morning to register their civil unions across Connecticut, as a handful of the state’s town clerk’s offices, the majority of which are closed on the weekend, opened up specifically to allow them do so on the day the law went into effect, October 1.
Laura DeNardis and Deborah Smith began waiting in line at the Stamford Town Clerk’s Office just before it opened at 9 a.m. The lesbian couple, who have been together for 15 years, moved to Connecticut from Virginia in June, specifically to gain the ability to enter into a same-sex civil union.
“We felt that it was necessary to move and make a statement,” DeNardis explained, just before the mayor presided over the couple’s civil union. “We decided to take our tax dollars elsewhere. And so now we are paying higher taxes in Connecticut—but it is worth it,”
The two were married several years ago in a private, religious ceremony unrecognized by any government entity.
“This really gives us the legal recognition and the [state] protections that go with it,” Smith said just after the couple obtained their civil union license Saturday. “So we felt that it was prudent to do this as soon as possible.”
Malloy, the Stamford mayor who hopes to retain his seat in the November election, presided over a handful of civil union ceremonies Saturday morning. The Democrat intends to run for governor next year.
“The law has changed and people now have a set of rights, and I support that, and I have demonstrated my support of that, and will continue to do so today, and I am honored to be asked to perform some ceremonies,” Malloy said before beginning the civil union ceremonies. “Some of these people are my friends.”
According to a civil unions primer put together by Love Makes a Family, a gay advocacy group in Connecticut, and the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Boston-based legal group that won the landmark Vermont case in 1999 and the Massachusetts marriage case in 2003, a Connecticut civil union gives same-sex couples “automatic inclusion within and under hundreds of Connecticut state laws that apply to married spouses, family, and next of kin.”
The primer states that Connecticut’s Office of Legislative Research identified the following categories of laws that will include civil union couples—family law, including marriage, divorce, and support; property title and distribution; wills and survivorship; state and municipal taxation; probate courts and procedure; group insurance for government, but not private-sector employees; family leave benefits; financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest rules; marital status discrimination protections; emergency and non-emergency medical care, hospital visitation, notification, and decision-making; state public assistance benefits, workers’ compensation and crime victims’ rights; and marital privileges in court proceedings.
“While civil unions will provide important protections within Connecticut, many lawyers are recommending that when you leave the state, you should take legal documents (e.g. medical power of attorney) with you since it is likely that your civil union will not be recognized,” the Love Makes a Family primer, which is posted on its website at lmfct.org , recommends.
Couples joined in civil unions will not be able to file joint tax returns because Connecticut tax filing status is tied to the federal government’s system.
In addition, the 1,138 protections that the federal government has identified as linked to married status are also closed to same-sex couples in civil unions, the primer noted.
Because civil unions are not recognized by the federal government or by nearly all states, Michael Spiegelman-Fishman, and his partner Chris Fishman-Spiegelman did not stop at entering into a civil union this past weekend. They have also changed their names to help side step any problems they could have when they travel out of the state or if they choose to adopt children.
“But this is an historic moment,” Chris Fishman-Spiegelman said. “And we are finally getting our legal rights, and we are going to be protected.”
Other gay and lesbian couples on Saturday echoed that view that the new law was a big step in the right direction, and may one day lead to federal recognition of same-sex partnerships.
George Wagner and George Hellyer, together for 13 years, were among those waiting in line in Stamford on Saturday. Hellyer’s 79-year-old mother, Mildred, was also on hand to offer love and encouragement for her son and his new spouse. She traveled from Long Island to be there.
“And my husband would have been here, too, but he wasn’t feeling well, so I am here,” she said, wearing a colorful dress and holding a flower in her hand.
Wagner noted a happy problem the couple will have now that they have entered in to a civil union.
“Now we have to get used to a new anniversary,” he said, as the couple laughed.