Tales Told Of Unequal Unions

by Melissa Bailey | March 18, 2008 8:11 AM | | Comments (4)

IMG_1241.jpgBureaucratic confusion and a “single mom” talk turned a glorious moment — the birth of her son — into a trying time for Holly Robinson, who offered her tale to support an effort to fight discrimination against couples in civil unions.

Robinson joined others telling emotional tales at a hearing Monday of the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Testimony centered on a bill that would make sure that people in civil unions aren’t being discriminated against because of their marital status. The bill would also automatically recognize as legal unions any same-sex union entered into in another state.

IMG_1247.jpgTerry Lawrence (pictured), 79, says life has been pretty “easy” since she and her partner came out of the closet in full front-page glory in the New Haven Register two years ago. Monday, the couple drove to the Capitol hearing to support those in civil unions who’ve had worse luck.

Lawrence and her partner, Carolyn, who live in Hamden, slapped on bright yellow “equality” stickers and sat in the crowd at the hearing. Like many in the room, they signed up right away when Connecticut legalized civil unions between homosexual couples in October 2005.

Holly Robinson, a lawyer from Danbury, was also joined by civil union in October 2005, to her partner Lois.

At Monday’s hearing Robinson described how confusion in the State Department of Public Health marred the birth of her son, Andrew. In February 2007, Lois gave birth to Andrew at a mid-sized Connecticut hospital. They checked ahead to make sure there would be no problems due to their civil union status. Robinson was able to be there for the whole birth.

But when it came time to sign a birth certificate, staff couldn’t find the right document for partners in civil unions, Robinson said: “They didn’t know what I was talking about.” To add to the problem, a state social worker insisted Lois was a single mother, and tried to give her a state-mandated “single mom” talk.

The couple eventually got the paperwork, faxed from a friend, but the experience put undue strain on an emotionally heightened time. Two years after civil unions became legal, the state should have figured out how to adapt to the law, Robinson charged.

IMG_1245.jpgAt the other end of the life spectrum, Catherine Osten testified to a similar experience during the death of her sister, Linda Osten. Her sister was joined by civil union to her partner, Lynn Ferrari, in October 2005. In December 2007, Linda Osten passed away, leaving behind her partner of 10 years. When the family sat down at a funeral home in Hartford, they were shocked and hurt to find the funeral director refused to let Ferrari sign documents to consent to cremation or to sign her death certificate.

“When you’re in a committed relationship, that’s where your heart is; that’s where your life is,” said Osten in the hall. To be denied the right to make decisions for your loved one put an immense strain on an already terrible time.

Luckily, Osten, who’s the first selectwoman of Sprague and a union rep for the Department of Corrections, knew whom to call. She marched down to a Christmas party in Hartford where the two Judicial Committee chairs Rep. Mike Lawlor (D-East Haven) and State Sen. Andrew McDonald could be found. They made some phone calls; the problem was fixed. But what if Osten hadn’t been so lucky?

On the hearing floor Monday, Lawlor said Osten’s testimony “gives a lot of credence” to the argument that separate is not equal. That argument is being weighed before the state Supreme Court, which any day now could make a decision on whether same-sex couples are discriminated against by not being allowed to marry.

The Marriage Fight

Lawlor said Osten’s case could be resolved only by changing the name of civil unions to “marriage.” A bill that would have done that passed the Judiciary Committee last year but failed to become law. Gay marriage proponents are hoping the Supreme Court would settle the issue in their favor.

On the other side of the fence, anti-gay marriage advocates like Peter Wolfgang, who say marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, are fighting part of the “Act Concerning Civil Unions” argued Monday.

Wolfgang said he had no problem with the part of the bill that would address the type of discrimination Osten and Robinson described. His bone to pick was with a second portion that would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Currently, people who move here in same-sex marriages are free to pursue a civil union in Connecticut, but the status doesn’t automatically transfer.

Wolfgang is the new head of the Family Institute of Connecticut. His group helped get a clause inserted in Connecticut’s 2005 civil union bill that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Recognizing same-sex marriages from Massachussets as civil unions here in Connecticut would run “undermine” to that definition, Wolfgang argued.

His group is calling for a referendum to revise the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Only in that way would they prevent a judge from ordering the legislature to create a gay marriage law.

“We ought to let the people decide,” he said, rather than “undemocratically redefine marriage” through the legislature.

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Posted by: PolishBear [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 18, 2008 8:59 AM

That Gay couples seek to marry is not an attack on marriage. If anything it is an ENDORSEMENT of marriage, an acknowledgment that it far better to encourage couples toward monogamy and commitment, rather than relegating them to lives of loneliness and promiscuity.

Ask any Straight couple why they choose to marry. Their answer will not be, "We want to get married so that we can have sex and make babies!" That would be absurd, since couples do not need to marry to make babies, nor is the desire to make babies a prerequisite for obtaining a marriage license.

No, the reason couples choose to marry is to make a solemn declaration, before friends and family members, that they wish to make a commitment to one another's happiness, health, and well-being, to the exclusion of all others. Those friends and family members will subsequently act as a force of encouragement for that couple to hold fast to their vows.

THAT'S what makes marriage a good thing. Gay couples recognize that and support that. And those that want to prohibit Gay couples from marrying do so only because they don't want to allow Gay couples the opportunity to PROVE that they are up to the task.

For those who suggest that the issue of marriage is best left up to the states, it's important to remember that the federal government has a vested interest in married couples for the purposes of income taxes and Social Security benefits. From the fed's point of view, it wouldn't do for a couple to be considered married in one state, then magically "UN-married" once they decide to move somewhere else.

The fact remains that the term "marriage" does not occur in the Constitution of the United States. There is technically no "right" for any couple, Gay or Straight, to get married. And that is why, ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to address the issue of what constitutes a marriage, much as I'm sure they would prefer NOT to.

Posted by: Steve | March 18, 2008 9:37 AM

This is actually a good reason why gay unions of any kind should not be allowed. Much of the rest of the country is sitting here shaking its head at Connecticut's pandering foolish ways. Civil unions are a bad idea, but gay marriage is an even worse idea.

Posted by: melanie | March 18, 2008 3:31 PM

Steve, when can I vote on your marriage?

Posted by: Ned | March 18, 2008 4:06 PM

Why are right wing (closet cases?) guys, and their dried up, bitter female counterparts, so totally obsessed with man on man sex?

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