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April 14, 2005
Connecticut Gets It Right

In the long-running debate about gay marriage, the primary issue for conservatives across the board has been the ability of the courts to impose edicts ordering legislatures to provide it regardless of the sense of the people in each state. Massachusetts provided the first example of this; California may soon follow. Efforts to define marriage and civil-union issues in the legislatures in response are the constitutional and common-sense alternative, and Connecticut should be congratulated for allowing its representative government to resolve the issues equitably:

Connecticut's House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would make the state the second to establish civil unions for same-sex couples, and the first to do so without being directed by a court.

The state Senate overwhelmingly approved a civil-unions bill last week, and lawmakers said they expect to endorse the House version as early as next week. Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) said Wednesday that she will sign it.

The House also passed an amendment -- favored by Rell and designed to make the bill more palatable to more conservative members -- that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

"It's an unbelievable victory," said Rep. Michael P. Lawlor (D), one of the bill's main supporters. "The idea that both houses endorsed this concept of civil unions is an incredible step."

Both sides got some piece of victory, while the centrists won the day. Connecticut will not recognize gay marriage, which fits with the will of the electorate. On the other hand, the legislature made a perfectly rational decision about reinforcing contract law by allowing two adults to form a legal partnership that regulates the public portion of their lives. For libertarians, this makes perfect sense; it allows couples who either are unable or unwilling to marry assign each other next-of-kin relationships, form financial partnerships, and establish legally defensible rights to certain civil benefits formerly excluded from them. This also appears to meet the will of the electorate.

Extremists on the Left will claim the legislation violates civil rights, but that is a specious argument. Gays have the same rights to marry as anyone else -- to marry an adult of the opposite gender not closely related by blood. No other restrictions apply. They are not prohibited into entering into relationships with adults of the same gender (except, as with heteros, close sanguinary relations), because that is private behavior. Marriage is a public act, and the people have the standing to regulate it. Do I think excluding gays from marriage to be a rational decision? Yes, although I don't really agree with it. And as long as the restriction is rational, then it's legal.

Extremists on the Right will claim that civil unions will erode marriage. However, no one will "turn gay" because Connecticut suddenly endorsed civil unions, and in fact because it allows a legal and healthy channel for nontraditional couples -- heteros included -- it will probably wind up strengthening the sacramental vision of marriage many of these people endorse. Those who are disinclined to take marriage seriously may skip it and use a civil union instead. Gays who form these unions will become less radical and more integrated into the mainstream of political and economic thought, creating a stronger center, and a weaker Left.

Besides, partnership contracts for public benefits are a staple of American law. If taken separately, there probably isn't a single component of the civil union that could not be accomplished by executing a contract; civil unions just provide a comprehensive umbrella for such action. The notion that two people should be prohibited from entering into contracts because of their sexual orientation creates a government intrusion into private behavior that reasonable people should find very troubling indeed.

Connecticut managed to get this one right. Congratulations.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 14, 2005 7:33 AM

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» I Hear Connecticut Is A Nice Place To Live from Lime Shurbet
Not that we will be moving anytime soon, but it is nice to know there are options for a nice conservative gay couple.... [Read More]

Tracked on April 14, 2005 2:13 PM

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