HARTFORD, Conn., April 13 -- 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."
Connecticut's push toward civil unions cuts against a national backlash that has followed the legalization of such relationships in Vermont in 2000 and of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts last year. Unlike Connecticut, court rulings prompted the changes in those states.
In November, 11 states outlawed same-sex marriage through ballot initiatives, and at least 18 have passed "defense of marriage" amendments to their constitutions, defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The Connecticut House bill passed 85 to 63 after six hours of debate that ended just after 8 p.m.
It would provide same-sex couples who form civil unions with state and municipal tax benefits now granted only to married couples, as well as hospital visitation rights and a host of other benefits, including family-leave privileges.
In the end, the most ardent advocates on both sides of the issue said they were disappointed.
"It's bittersweet, certainly, because of the amendment [defining marriage]. It's also surprising, because even last night we thought we had the votes to stop it," said Ann Stanback, president of the group Love Makes a Family, which lobbies for gay rights.
Marie T. Hilliard, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, which helped coordinate opposition to the bill, said that while she welcomes the amendment, she considers the bill "a defeat that undermines marriage for all of society."
Recent polls have shown that Connecticut residents favor allowing civil unions but not marriage for same-sex couples. But bill opponents argued that the measure is equivalent to extending marriage rights.
"I think we're just playing with words," said Rep. Alfred Adinolfi (R). "This bill is the same as same-sex marriage, it's just called civil unions."
Rell, who took office last year after of a corruption scandal that led to the imprisonment of her predecessor, John G. Rowland (R), had earlier said she was comfortable with "the concept" of civil unions but wanted to see the final version of the bill.