Ringing in Conn. civil unions

Law takes effect in state, first to recognize gay couples without a directive from courts

October 02, 2005|By DANIELA ALTIMARI

HARTFORD, Conn. -- From Hartford, where carnations and applause greeted newly joined couples, to tiny Washington, where two women who have been together for 38 years celebrated with cake and champagne, gay men and lesbians across Connecticut ushered in the state's landmark civil union law yesterday.

"It's a historic day and we wanted to be part of it," said Lidia Agramonte, 47, who arrived at Hartford City Hall at 7:30 yesterday morning -- 90 minutes before the doors opened -- with her partner, Maria Gomez, 50. The New Britain couple held a small ceremony in Bushnell Park several hours later.

Hartford officials hung a rainbow flag over the entrance to City Hall, set out a table laden with juice and coffee and were ready for hundreds of couples. Only 26 showed up. The clerk's office was one of a dozen or so holding Saturday hours to accommodate couples seeking civil union licenses on the day the law took effect.

Connecticut is the first state to grant legal recognition to gay couples without a directive from the courts. Massachusetts, which permits gays to marry, and Vermont, which authorizes civil unions, were reacting to judges' orders.

Two noon rallies outside the state Capitol protested the new law. One group believed civil unions should not be allowed and the other said that same-sex marriage should be permitted.

Inside Hartford City Hall the mood was jovial. Couples, some with children in tow, took numbers and waited their turns in the marble corridor outside the clerk's office. When a couple emerged with license in hand, they were greeted with applause and handed a red-and-white carnation.

Yesterday, Charlotte Johnson and her partner, Joan Gauthey, hosted a party with 200 guests in their hometown of Washington. Gauthey, a retired physical education teacher, began the festivities by blowing a coach's whistle. After Gauthey and Johnson recited their vows and exchanged rings, the crowd tossed birdseed and blew bubbles. The cake, baked by a member of their church, was topped with a tiny statue of two brides.

Anne Bladen and Jill Barton of Hampton chose a simpler celebration. They wore jeans and denim shirts as they briefly exchanged vows in the courtyard next to Hartford City Hall. Their 7-year-old son, Lucas, stood between them as Mayor Eddie Perez looked on.

"Do you, Jill, take this woman, Anne, to be your lawful joined partner, to love honor and cherish her through sickness and in health, through times of happiness and travail, until death do you part?" asked Kelvin Roldan, a justice of the peace who works in City Hall.

The vows came long after the commitment. Bladen and Barton, together for 15 years, have weathered a major medical crisis together and are raising Lucas together.

Daniela Altimari writes for the Hartford Courant.

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