Same-sex marriages begin in Connecticut

Same-sex couples began marrying in Connecticut on Wednesday after a judge cleared the way earlier that day, a victory for advocates stung by California's ban on same-sex unions last week.

Same-sex couples began marrying in Connecticut on Wednesday after a judge cleared the way earlier that day, a victory for advocates stung by California's ban on same-sex unions last week.

Jen Vickrey, left, and Peg Oliviera laugh after they were married by Judge Herbert Gruendel, centre, outside city hall in New Haven, Conn., on Wednesday. ((Bob Child/Associated Press))
Protests spread across the country over the loss in California, but in New Haven, bubbles and white balloons bounced in the chilly autumn air as well-wishers cheered the marriage of Peg Oliveira and Jennifer Vickery.

They wed outside city hall, next to a statue commemorating the Amistad slave ship's struggle for freedom, less than two hours after a judge made gay marriage a reality in Connecticut.

"I feel so happy," said Vickery, a 44-year-old lawyer. "It's so much more emotional than I expected."

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the right to wed rather than accept a civil union law designed to give them the same rights as married couples.

A lower-court judge entered a final decision Wednesday morning in New Haven on a case in which eight couples sued the state to allow same-sex marriage.

Complying with the Supreme Court ruling, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert formally ruled that same-sex couples could apply for marriage licences at town and city clerks' offices statewide.

'Thrilling' day

Gay marriage is legal now only in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The unions were legal in California until a statewide referendum to ban gay marriage narrowly passed last week.

The vote has sparked protests and several lawsuits asking that state's Supreme Court to overturn the prohibition.

In Connecticut, celebrating couples, some carrying red roses, streamed into the clerk's office to get their licences.

The first licence issued in New Haven went to plaintiffs Robin Levine-Ritterman and Barbara Levine-Ritterman, who have been together since 1989.

A crowd of about 100 people outside city hall applauded as Barbara proudly held up the licence.

"It's thrilling today. We are all in one line for one form. Love is love, and the state recognizes it," she said.

Ruling 'undemocratic,' group says

Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage passed last week in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

However, Connecticut voters last week rejected the idea of a constitutional convention to amend the state's constitution, a major blow to opponents of same-sex marriage.

The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, condemned the high court's decision as undemocratic.

Peter Wolfgang, the group's executive director, acknowledged banning gay marriage in Connecticut would be difficult but vowed not to give up.

"Unlike California, we did not have a remedy," Wolfgang said. "It must be overturned with patience, determination and fortitude."

The state's 2005 civil union law will remain on the books, at least for now. Same-sex couples can continue to enter civil unions, which give them the same legal rights and privileges in Connecticut as married couples without the status of being married.