After more than three hours of debate and a handful of amendments the legislature’s Judiciary Committee approved by a vote of 30 to 10 a bill which codifies the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.
The bill also removes gender references in state marriage laws and transforms existing same-sex civil unions into marriages as of October 2010. It now has to be approved by the General Assembly.
Most of the debate Monday centered around religious freedom and the ability of a religious organization to deny a same-sex couple the use of its reception hall for a marriage ceremony.
Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, who led the debate on an amendment which ultimately failed, said by exempting religious organizations the state of Connecticut could avoid what happened in state’s like New Jersey where a church lost its tax exempt status for denying a same-sex couple the right to marry on church owned property.
Morris said he was simply trying to balance the rights of religious groups with the new rights recently granted to same-sex couples through the Kerrigan decision.
Opponents to Morris’ amendment said that it discriminates against same-sex couples and possibly goes against the spirit of the court’s decision.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said Morris’ amendment treated same-sex couples differently than other couples. “What we are doing here today is making sure we are not treating people as other,” Holder-Winfield said. He said Morris’ amendment discriminated against a certain group of people, but Morris argued there are plenty of choices out there.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said if an organization chooses to rent out a hall to the general public, then they can’t discriminate. Lawlor also spoke against an amendment which would have allowed justices of the peace to decide not to perform same-sex marriages.
He said when it comes to justices of the peace and retired judges, “we don’t want people picking and choosing what laws they uphold,” and the Kerrigan decision is now part of the state’s law.
The only way the Kerrigan decision can be overturned now is through a constitutional amendment.
Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who supported Morris’ amendment Monday said Connecticut is a tolerant state. He said even before the court issued its decision he felt the state’s legislature was moving toward approving same-sex marriage independent of a Supreme Court decision.