OLR Bill Analysis

sSB 899 (as amended by Senate "A" and "C")*

AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE GUARANTEE OF EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE FOR SAME SEX COUPLES.

SUMMARY:

This bill redefines “marriage” as the legal union of two persons. On October 1, 2010, it transforms civil unions into marriages unless they have been annulled or the couple has divorced or is in the process of dissolving their relationship. It exempts clergy; churches; and IRS-qualified, church-controlled organizations from officiating or participating in a marriage ceremony that violates their religious freedom or beliefs. It also (1) provides certain other religious organizations legal protections for refusing to provide services related to marriage ceremonies; (2) leaves unchanged the authority of fraternal benefit societies to determine membership and beneficiaries; and (3) permits religiously-affiliated organizations that provide adoption, foster care, or social services to operate in the manner they choose so long as the specific program or purpose does not receive state or federal funds.

The bill also repeals provisions in current law that:

1. declare that the current public policy of the state is limited to marriage between a man and a woman and

2. define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

It establishes a rule controlling when marriages or substantially similar relationships formed in other jurisdictions must be recognized in Connecticut and gives other jurisdictions the discretion to recognize marriages and substantially similar relationships formed in Connecticut.

Many of the bill's provisions conform statutes to the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in Kerrigan v. Dept. of Public Health, which held that is was unconstitutional to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

It also makes minor, technical, and conforming changes.

*Senate Amendment “A” adds provisions concerning (1) legal protections for religious organizations; (2) fraternal benefit societies; and (3) adoption, foster care, or social services provided by religiously-affiliated providers.

*Senate Amendment “C” specifies that the provision on adoption, foster care, or social services applies only to specific programs that receive governmental funding.

EFFECTIVE DATE: Upon passage, except the repeal of the civil union statutes and some conforming provisions are effective October 1, 2010.

11-13 — CIVIL UNIONS

Beginning on the date the bill passes and until September 30, 2010, parties to Connecticut civil unions may apply for marriage licenses if they are eligible to marry. After the marriage is solemnized and the license certificate is filed with the appropriate vital statistics registrar, their civil union becomes a marriage by operation of law.

On October 1, 2010, civil unions that have not been dissolved or annulled, or are in the process of being dissolved, merge into marriages by operation of law. The bill states that the mergers do not impair or affect any action or proceeding brought before October 1, 2010, any accrued right or benefit, or any responsibility incurred prior to that date. The relationships that have not merged on October 1, 2010 because of pending dissolution, annulment, or legal separation are governed by the civil union statutes in effect on September 30, 2010.

501-503—RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS

Religious Organizations

The bill specifies that a religious organization, association, or society; or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by one of these entities is not required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if:

1. the request is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage and

2. the solemnization or celebration is in violation of its religious beliefs and faith.

It specifies that the refusal does not subject the entity to civil liability or allow the state to penalize or withhold benefits from it.

Fraternal Benefit Societies

The bill specifies that the state's marriage laws cannot be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine who to admit as members under state law or to decide the scope of legal beneficiaries. The marriage laws also cannot require an existing fraternal benefit society that is (1) operated, supervised, or controlled by, or in connection with, a religious organization and (2) operating for charitable and educational purposes to provide insurance benefits to any person if doing so would violate the society's constitutional rights to free exercise of religion.

Church-Related Adoption, Foster Care. Or Social Service Providers

The bill states that nothing in its provisions can be deemed or construed to affect the manner in which a religious organization provides adoption, foster care, or social services if the entity does not receive state or federal funds for the specific program or purpose.

4 — ELIGIBILITY TO MARRY

The bill's marriage eligibility provisions require that the parties be:

1. not parties to another marriage or substantially similar relationship, except couples who are already married to one another or in substantially similar relationships can marry;

2. at least 18 years of age, unless their parents consent to marriage at age 16 or 17 or a probate judge grants permission to marry at a younger age;

3. not under a conservatorship, unless the conservator consents; and

4. not so closely related that their marriage would be incestuous under Connecticut law.

With the exception of provision (1) above, these requirements are the same as existing marriage laws.

1& 2 — MARRIAGE RECOGNITION

The bill requires recognition of marriages or relationships that provide substantially the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities between two people entered into in other jurisdictions and recognized as valid in that jurisdiction. These relationships include same-sex and common law marriages and civil unions. State case law already provides for recognition of common law marriage.

It also allows other states to recognize marriages and substantially similar relationships entered into in Connecticut if the spouse or both spouses travel to or reside in the other jurisdictions, so long as the relationship would be recognized in Connecticut.

17 & 18 — STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION

The bill repeals a statute that provides that a number of laws should not be construed to:

1. mean that the state condones homosexuality or bisexuality, or any equivalent lifestyle;

2. authorize the promotion of homosexuality or bisexuality in educational institutions or require the teaching in educational institutions of homosexuality or bisexuality as an acceptable lifestyle;

3. authorize or permit the use of numerical goals or quotas or other types of affirmative action programs with respect to homosexuality or bisexuality in the administration or enforcement of a number or laws;

4. authorize the recognition of same-sex marriage; or

5. establish sexual orientation as a specific and separate cultural classification in society.

The bill repeals the civil union statutes, effective October 1, 2010.

BACKGROUND

Kerrigan v. Dept. of Public Health

In Kerrigan v. Dept. of Public Health, 289 Conn. 135 (2008), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The court's opinion expressly did not affect civil unions.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

30

Nay

10

(03/30/2009)