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(Updated: 4:35 p.m.) Years of perseverance by eight couples—including New Haven’s Barbara and Robin Levine-Ritterman—paid off Friday as the State Supreme Court made Connecticut the third state in the U.S. to legalize gay marriage.

The Court’s 4-3 decision was issued Friday morning. The decision overturned a lower- court ruling in the case brought by the eight couples, including lead plaintiffs Beth Kerrigan and Jody Mock (pictured).

Couples will probably be able to go their town halls and be legally married by some time in early to mid November, predicted Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The way the process works: Friday’s Supreme Court decision now goes back to Superior Court on Oct. 28, the ruling’s effective date. At that point the Superior Court must issue a judgment implementing the decision. It can happen immediately, or it can take a week or so.

The majority in the case, titled Kerrigan v. Connecticut Department of Public Health, made the link to one-time ban on interracial marriage. They also said that civil unions, the current legal option for gay couples in Connecticut, are not an equal substitute for marriage. Click here and here for previous stories on why couples advocating for marriage rights found civil unions inadequate.

Two of the four judges voting in the majority come from New Haven: Fleming Norcott, and Lubbie Harper, who’s an appellate judge who sat on the panel for this case. Both are African-American; the majority opinion noted that interracial marriage used to be illegal.

“it is instructive to recall in this regard that the traditional, well-established legal rules and practices of our not-so-distant past barred interracial marriage, upheld the routine exclusion of women from many occupations and official duties, and considered the relegation of racial minorities to separate and assertedly equivalent public facilities and institutions as constitutionally equal treatment,” the majority opinion read in part. Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote that opinion.

The decision overturned a lower-court ruling that went against the plaintiffs.

In one of three dissenting opinions issued Friday, Judges David Borden and Christine S. Vertefeuille noted that Connecticut has had a civil unions law for only three years.

“Our experience with civil unions is simply too new and the views of the people of our state about it as a social institution are too much in flux to say with any certitude that the marriage statute must be struck down in order to vindicate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” they wrote.

The court’s decision Kerrigan v. Connecticut Department of Public Health, says that although the traditional view of marriage has been limited to a union between a man and a woman, ‘‘if we have learned anything from the significant evolution in the prevailing societal views and official policies toward members of minority races and toward women over the past half-century, it is that even the most familiar and generally accepted of social practices and traditions often mask unfairness and inequality that frequently is not recognized or appreciated by those not directly harmed by those practices or traditions.”

The majority justices continued that “it is instructive to recall in this regard that the traditional, well-established legal rules and practices of our not-so-distant past barred interracial marriage, upheld the routine exclusion of women from many occupations and official duties, and considered the relegation of racial minorities to separate and assertedly equivalent public facilities and institutions as constitutionally equal treatment.’‘

Christine Stuart photo

Further, the court said that our conventional understanding of marriage must yield to a more contemporary appreciation of the rights entitled to constitutional protection.

“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. To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others. The guarantee of equal protection under the law, and our obligation to uphold that command, forbids us from doing so. In accordance with these state constitutional requirements, same sex couples cannot be denied the freedom to marry.”

The dissenting opinions are available here, here, and here.

Next Stop: Home Depot

Christine Stuart photo

The victorious eight gay and lesbian couples named in the lawsuit (pictured) celebrated the victory at a press conference in Hartford Friday afternoon.

The event took place at the Hartford Hilton. Hugs, kisses and cheers abounded. The Hilton is where the plaintiffs initially announced their lawsuit four years ago.

“For 28 years we have been engaged. We can now register at Home Depot and prepare for marriage,” said Garret Stack of Woodbridge, one of the plaintiffs.

Connecticut Leads

Same-sex marriage supporters organized a 5:30 p.m. rally in Hartford Friday to celebrate the ruling and the imminent right for gay and lesbian couples to be legally married in Connecticut. Connecticut now joins Massachusetts and California in officially blessing same-sex marriage.

Anne Stanback, executive director of the pro-marriage equality group Love Makes A Family, hailed the court’s “foresight.” She wrote in an email to supporters that the ruling “once again establishes Connecticut as a national leader in treating all its citizens equally in the eyes of the law.”

“Connecticut is now a fairer, more equitable place for all,” Stanback declared. “This historic ruling will provide additional security and respect to the thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples and their children living in our state.”

Foes of same-sex marriage, meanwhile, are turning their attention to efforts to win a “yes” vote on a constitution question on this November’s ballot. The question: Shall there be a constitutional convention? If voters say yes, a convention is held, and delegates (chosen by the legislature) can pass amendments to the constitution. Same-sex foes hope the convention will produce an amendment that allows referendums on statewide ballots. Then, ultimately, they hope to produce a statewide referendum on same-sex marriage.

The Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes gay rights, held a 3 p.m. press conference of its own at the state Legislative Office Building in Hartford Friday.

Peter Wolfgang, the group’s executive director, called the decision “an outrage.” Calling the justices “robed masters” and “philosopher kings,” Wolfgang said they “reached down and took the big decision of the day out of the democratic process.”

“However, there is a silver lining,” he added. Because the decision was made three weeks before the election, he can more easily rally forces to vote in favor of the constitutional convention.

“Court Has Spoken”

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, meanwhile, kept to middle ground. She issued a statement saying she disagrees with the State Supreme Court ruling but has no plans to fight it.

“I disagree with today’s State Supreme Court ruling but as governor, I will uphold it. I continue to believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” Rell stated.

“I also believe that the historic civil union law that I proudly signed in 2005 is equitable and just. We were the first state to enact such a law through legislative action and not a court mandate.

“The Supreme Court has spoken. I do not believe their voice reflects the majority of the people of Connecticut. However, I am also firmly convinced that attempts to reverse this decision—either legislatively or by amending the state Constitution—will not meet with success. I will therefore abide by the ruling.”

A “Civil Rights Victory”

State Sen. President Don Williams was more upbeat about the history-making ruling.

“This historic ruling will provide additional security and protections to thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples and their children living in Connecticut,” he said in a release. “The plaintiffs, advocates, and above all the people of Connecticut should celebrate this civil rights victory. We look forward do implementing the Supreme Court’s decision in a bipartisan manner.”

Whither Unions?

The state legislature, meanwhile, has to decide what to do about civil unions.

State Sen. Andrew McDonald of Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on Friday that a debate will take place during the next legislative session over whether to repeal the civil unions law. On the one hand, some people, like McDonald, don’t see a need for that law anymore and wonder whether it will now cause confusion. Others may wish to enter into civil unions but not marriage.