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Gay Marriage Battles In New England

The fight over same-sex marriage was waged on two fronts Tuesday in New England: in New Hampshire, where state lawmakers took action, and in Connecticut, where a court case is underway.

In Concord, N.H., the New Hampshire House voted 207-125 to defeat a proposal to add to the state's Bill of Rights a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

An opponent of gay marriage, GOP Sen. Jack Raymond, said the House has spoken and he will not pursue a similar amendment in the state Senate.

"The people is the third rail in politics," said Raymond after the vote, "and obviously the people that voted against it didn't want to hit the third rail."

New Hampshire does not permit same-sex civil unions or marriage and does not recognize marriages and civil unions performed out of state. Opponents of such arrangements believe an amendment to the Bill of Rights might make it harder to change New Hampshire's marriage laws.

Activists on both sides of the issue have their eyes on Connecticut State Superior Court.

In New Haven Tuesday, a lawyer for eight same-sex couples argued in court that Connecticut's marriage laws illegally create a separate class of people based on sexual orientation.

The couples, with the help of the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, sued in 2004 in an attempt to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.

Last year, Connecticut approved civil unions for same-sex couples, which gives them the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, but that law also defined marriage as existing only between a man and a woman.

That law "is nothing less than the government's announcement that these are second-class citizens," Ben Klein, a senior attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, told Superior Court Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman.

GLAD used a similar argument in Massachusetts, where gay marriage became legal after a 2003 state Supreme Judicial Court ruling, and similar lawsuits are pending in other states. In January, a Baltimore judge ruled that a law against gay marriage violates the Maryland Constitution's guarantee of equal rights.

Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Jane Rosenberg defended the laws Tuesday, arguing that there is no fundamental right to marry.

She said it was reasonable for the state to create civil unions to give same-sex couples the legal rights of marriage while also dealing with administrative issues, such as federal Medicaid and Medicare programs, which do not recognize gay marriage.

Pittman asked Rosenberg if Connecticut's law preventing same-sex couples from marrying is any different from a Virginia law that prevented interracial couples from marrying until it was declared unconstitutional.

Rosenberg responded that race is not an essential part of marriage but gender is.

The judge did not immediately rule.

Jeffrey Busch of Wilton attended Tuesday's hearing with partner Stephen Davis and son Elijah Davis-Busch.

"I'm pretty hopeful and optimistic," he said. "Connecticut has done so much to allow us to be a family. I believe the courts will correct this injustice of not allowing us to marry."

The Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes gay marriage, has asked to intervene in the case, claiming the state attorney general's office is not vigorously defending Connecticut's marriage laws. The state Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether that group may become part of the case.

The majority of states in New England now provide some form of legal recognition for same sex couples. Vermont and Connecticut offer civil unions and Massachusetts allows marriage. Maine bans same-sex marriage but has a domestic partner registry. And in Rhode Island, legislators have introduced proposals to legalize same sex unions.

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