Connecticut's First Same-Sex Unions Proceed Civilly

Egardo Rivera, 31, left, and Pablo Santiago, 33, both of Hartford, Conn., are made
Egardo Rivera, 31, left, and Pablo Santiago, 33, both of Hartford, Conn., are made "partners in life" in a civil ceremony at Hartford City Hall. (Photos By David A. Fahrenthold -- The Washington Post)
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 2, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn., Oct. 1 -- Connecticut became the third state to offer same-sex couples a legal way to unite, issuing its first licenses for "civil unions" Saturday in what seemed too low-key to be a milestone in a cultural fight that has divided the nation.

Here in Hartford -- where a rainbow flag hung outside City Hall and the clerk's office opened for special Saturday hours -- 26 couples came in to get licenses for the unions, which offer the same benefits as traditional marriage under state law.

Some, such as Pablo Santiago, 33, and Edgardo Rivera, 31, went directly to a justice of the peace and had the unions solemnized. Santiago and Rivera, of Hartford, had their ceremony in the atrium of City Hall, embracing after City Clerk Dan Carey said, "I now pronounce you partners in life."

"Wonderful," Santiago said afterward. "Everyone that's in love like we are should do the same thing."

Despite the smiles and occasional tears, this was nothing like the hoopla when Vermont began civil unions in 2000, or the midnight ceremonies that kicked off gay marriage in Massachusetts last year.

Couples acknowledged that, even as they did something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, the thrill was not there. Full-fledged marriage was the ultimate goal, and this seemed more like an intermediate step.

"It feels good, but it doesn't feel like it will when we get married," said Peter Tognalli, 52, of Manchester, Conn., who had gotten a license with Bill Brindamour, 54, his partner of 27 years.

A few blocks away, in a deserted downtown that showed few signs of anything but Saturday going on, a Reclaim Connecticut Protest on the steps of the state capitol drew a few dozen opponents of civil unions.

Brian Brown, a leading opponent of civil unions in the state, told the crowd that much more political activism would be needed to fulfill their eventual goal: a constitutional amendment eliminating same-sex unions.

"This is a tragic day for our state's children," said Brown, whose organization, the Family Institute of Connecticut, contends that children develop best in a household with heterosexual parents. "We have a lot to do and a very short time to do it."

Connecticut, which had 7,386 households with same-sex couples in the 2000 Census, was the first state whose legislature approved gay unions on its own. Vermont and Massachusetts were forced to change their laws by order of their state supreme courts. Connecticut's unions bring no benefits under federal law, which does not recognize them.

It was difficult to gauge the number of couples who received licenses Saturday because the state government and many town halls were closed for the weekend. A spokesman for another large city, New Haven, said his town hall had been open but also was hardly overwhelmed: Ten couples applied for licenses.

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