By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Activist judges in the Connecticut Supreme Court have overturned a state ban on same-sex marriage, making it the third state in the union to legalize gay marriage.
In a four to three ruling handed down on Oct. 10, the justices decided that “same sex couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry” under the state’s constitution.
This decision trumps a law passed by the Connecticut legislature in 2005 that allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions that granted essentially the same rights as married couples.
According to the justices, allowing some people the right to marry and not others “would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others,” wrote Justice Richard N. Palmer in the majority opinion. “Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice,” he wrote.
In dissent, three justices said the plaintiffs’ equal-protection rights had not been violated. One justice, Peter T. Zarella, argued that the real purpose of marriage laws is to regulate “procreative conduct” and that same-sex couples thus differ from people in traditional marriages.
“The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry,” Zarella wrote. “If the state no longer has an interest in the regulation of procreation, then that is a decision for the legislature or the people of the state and not this court.”
Same-sex couples can begin to apply for marriage licenses as early as next month. Couples from out of state can be married in Connectict but recognition of their marriages will depend on the laws in their state.
Eight couples who initiated the case in 2004 after being denied marriage licenses by the town of Madison were thrilled by the decision.
“This is just an extraordinary day,” said Elizabeth Kerrigan, who joined the suit with her partner, Jody Mock. “We are overjoyed to tell our twin boys that we will be married, just like their friends’ parents.”
Not everyone is celebrating the new law or the judicial activism that brought it about.
According to the Washington Post, President Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser, Karl Zinsmeister, said it was “unfortunate that activist judges continue to seek to redefine marriage by court order — without regard for the will of the people.” And the Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes gay marriage, said the ruling strikes at the right of citizens to govern themselves.
In a statement released Friday, the Connecticut Catholic Conference (CCC) said the decision creates an “inevitable conflict between people of faith, the natural law and the authority of the State” and called for a Constitutional Convention to overturn the decision.
“This decision is in direct conflict with the position of our state legislature and courts of other states and is a terribly regrettable exercise in judicial activism,” they stated.
Furthermore, the bishops argued that “Four people have not just extended a supposed civil right to a particular class of individuals, but have chosen to redefine the institution of marriage.”
They go on to say: “It appears our State Supreme Court has forgotten that courts should interpret laws and legislatures should make laws. . . The Supreme Court of Connecticut has chosen to ignore the wisdom of our elected officials, the will of the people, and historical social and religious traditions spanning thousands of years by imposing a social experiment upon the people of our state.”
Connecticut governor M. Jodi Rell (R) said she disagreed with the ruling but would not fight it. While she indicated most state residents also disapprove, “I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision — either legislatively or by amending the state constitution — will not meet with success,” she said.
“It’s outrageous and shameful that the Connecticut Supreme Court took it upon itself to legislate from the bench,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “This radical redefinition of marriage will have severe consequences for children, families, religious liberties, businesses and every facet of society as we know it. This decision puts marriage at risk all across the nation and highlights the need for a Marriage Protection Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
Perkins called upon both presidential candidates to explain what they would do as president to address the issue of same-sex marriage and to curb the kind of judicial activism that allowed it to happen.
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1. What is the primary reason why the Church condemns the notion of same-sex marriage? (See No. 2 in “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons” available here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html )
2. What does the Church consider to be the proper Christian response to the issue of same-sex marriage? (See No. 5 in the above document)
3. What is expected of the Catholic politician who is confronting the possible passage of legislation that will allow same-sex marriage? (See No. 7 in the above document).
4. If we deny marriage to homosexual persons, are we unfairly discriminating against them? (See Question #6 in “Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answer About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions” issued by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and available here: http://www.usccb.org/laity/manandwoman.shtml)