(Updated 11:21 p.m.) The state Senate voted 28 to 7 and the House voted 100 to 44 Wednesday in favor of updating the state’s marriage laws to conform with the Supreme Court’s ruling last October legalizing gay marriage.
The bill, which redefines marriage as the legal union of two people, was amended to include protections for religious organizations and associations.
The amendment, which added to the bill in both chambers, says a religious organization or association does not have to provide facilities or goods to a same-sex couple for a marriage ceremony.
Patrick Korten, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, said the language could have been stronger, but it was a very important step toward protecting religious freedom. It was a “huge step in the right direction,” Korten said outside Senate chambers.
The bill as amended means that the Knights of Columbus, which owns halls in several communities, would not have to rent those halls for same-sex marriage ceremonies. It also means groups like Catholic Charities would not have to offer adoption services to same-sex couples.
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, one of the groups running newspaper ads in opposition to the bill, said the amendment was a “significant improvement.”
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, one of the proponents of the bill said “our law does not allow people to look at our constitutional rights as if they were a buffet.” He said the constitution applies equally to everyone and nobody gets to cherry pick which laws they will or won’t follow.
After being bombarded with phone calls and emails this past week, legislators decided to pull the trigger and vote on the bill Wednesday night.
When asked if the public onslaught of communication, mostly in opposition to the bill, motivated legislators to come up with a bipartisan amendment to address religious liberty, McDonald said that it hindered the process. “The process would have been more seamless without the onslaught from outside the state,” McDonald said.
He said he thought Brian Brown, the former head of the Family Institute of Connecticut who is currently the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, left the state of Connecticut. The National Organization for Marriage was one of the groups that helped pay for radio advertisements that encouraged people to call the legislature to oppose the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said most of the week was spent clarifying the misinformation about the bill that was out there because of the advertising campaign.
Most of the seven senators who voted against the bill seemed to have strong objections to the Supreme Court’s 4 to 3 decision in the case.
Sen. Sam Caligiuri, R-Waterbury, said he understands the legislature’s desire to codify the court decision, but didn’t believe the underlying bill or the amendment included enough religious protections.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he very strongly disagrees with the court’s decision. “I hoped and prayed for three hours today that the debate would go the right way,” he said.
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, who voted in favor of the bill said he’s upset the Supreme Court issued a decision in the case. He said the Supreme Court justices pointed out in their decision that the legislature was slow to act to protect the rights of same-sex couples. He predicted that it would have been legislated in a short period of time had the court not acted.
In an emailed statement, McDonald said, ““This legislation lifts us up as a state, and it improves us as a people. It was not too long ago in American history that we looked with disapproval at interracial marriage. But we as a society have evolved, and we continue to evolve as we seek to reflect – and to protect – the diversity that makes us America.”
The amendment that provided an exemption for religious organizations was modeled after the recent Vermont legislation legalizing gay marriage.
The House also debated the bill for three hours Wednesday evening.
“When I came here today I was not expecting to have to vote on 899,” Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Norwalk, said. He said he doesn’t think the bill addressed all the concerns people of faith had about the bill.
As a person of the Christian faith, “I feel that my liberty was not properly considered,” Morris said. “This isn’t about marriage, this is about religious liberty.”
What this bill says is that you can discriminate as long as you don’t take state money, he said. He likened state legislators who were ready to vote in favor of the bill to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for a bribe of thirty pieces of silver.
Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who is also Christian, took offense to Morris’ biblical reference. “I will still be a Christian in the morning after I vote for this bill tonight,” he said.
Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, who was married to her partner Tracey Wilson this past November, said the bill provides her marriage and all marriages the respect and dignity it deserves.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell will sign the bill, her office said Thursday morning. In 2005 Rell signed the state’s civil union legislation into law saying she believed marriage was only between a man and a woman.